In Robert Crais' The Watchman, we have the author firing on all cylinders - and Crais aficionados will know that's an experience to savour. It's one of the tough long-term Crais protagonists, Joe Pike, who sets the edgy narrative in motion here, and the narrative barely pauses for breath once one of Crais most high adrenaline novels is in motion. Joe has been asked to look after a young female witness in a case involving a very dangerous gangster. The witness, Larkin Conner Barkely, couldn't be more different from the close-mouthed Joe: she's rich, wilful and very much used to getting her own way. The uneasy alliance between the two is not much helped when some very violent men start breathing down their necks. Joe realises that he has to drag a reluctant Larkin from her privileged background and hide her from view in the more downmarket areas of L.A., while at the same time bloodily taking the battle to the enemy.
All of this is handled with the aplomb that we expect from the ever-reliable Crais, and admirers of the author will be pleased to hear that Joe Pike calls upon his partner Elvis Cole to help them stay alive and track down those wanting to eliminate Joe's wealthy charge. Crais calls upon some classic elements of the L.A. detective story here (corrupt cops are a feature of such novels all the way back to Philip Marlowe), but there's no sense of clichés being warmed over. Rather, this is a satisfying juggling of comfortable elements, with the mix shaken up by some new and surprising ones -- such as the fact that the girl Pike and Cole are trying to protect seems to have a pronounced death wish -- a death wish that looks set to take down her protectors along with her. Crais fans can safely start reaching for their credit cards.