Robert Crais

When you create an author profile on Goodreads, one of the first things it asks you to do is list your "influences."
They give you a great big box and say "help yourself," and they then stand back while you stop, and then stare out the window, sucking your pen.
I've got to say, I didn't suck for too long before I came up with the top name on my list.
The first book I read by Robert Crais was one of those anthology ones. You know the kind? Those big bulky blocks that have three novels squeezed into them. Those ones that are a nightmare to pick up, let alone open, and read.
Now I’m a fairly big guy, so I shouldn’t complain, but when I got that book I was lying in a hospital bed recovering from an injury I'd received as a police officer. It is fair to say I wasn't really in the mood for lifting great weights. But I was bored, and a guy in the next bed passed me the book (block) across and I wasn’t going anywhere, so I dug in.
Since that morning all those years ago I've read everything Crais has written. In fact, aside from my own, I think it is fair to say his is the only website I check to see when the next book is due out!
What I am saying is that he isn’t just an influence, what I’m saying is:
I love Robert Crais.
What is it that I think makes him special? I could say his stories, which are a mile a minute and packed full of thrills. I could praise him for the way he brings hot and humid Los Angeles to life all around me, even when I’m sitting in cold and wet Liverpool, England.
I could talk about his humour, or his sharp snappy dialogue.
I could say all of that, but the thing for me that sets him apart is the warmth he imbibes into his characters.
That for me, is what makes him special.
Let’s take a look at his main protagonist Elvis Cole.
Elvis is an LA based private dick.
Nothing new there, there are more books about private detectives in Los Angeles than there are actual, private detectives in Los Angeles. Elvis though is different, he is warm, he has depth, he cares for his friends, his clients, and they care for him. Sure he drinks, sure he is lonely, sure he can be violent, but, and this is the thing, he isn’t too much of anything.
And that is where I think Crais gets it just right, he doesn’t try too hard to make his characters interesting.
Elvis, and countless other characters in the book, don’t have too many ingredients. Of course they are complex, but they are like a perfect soup, packed full of ingredients, but too much of anything, the balance is always perfect.
Perfect.
Speaking as a writer it is sometimes easy to drift into giving your characters too much “character.” It is easy to make them pained, lonely, angry, despairing, and sad, and then to set them off into the world with all that hanging out of them like an overstuffed couch.
But the problem is, real people are seldom like that, real people are normal people. Real people exist in ordinary situations, getting through the day, doing their best to get by.
Real people are normal and Crais’s characters are nearly always “normal”, it is just that they are in extraordinary situations.
And that’s why I believe in them.
And although I don’t write about private eyes in LA, I do try to follow his recipe, because I think a reader will care about a real person, and if they care about the character, they’ll care about the book.
I’m not saying there isn’t space in the world for Jack Reacher, of course there is, fourteen million people who buy the books prove that. But what I’m saying is would you miss Jack if you never met him again?

Because I’d miss Elvis.

Thanks for reading.
Tony

The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher