The International Writers Magazine: Review
First Rule by Robert Crais
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Orion (18 Mar 2010)
Joe Pike the hero of Robert Crais’ latest novel First Rule is not a family man. His one time murdered colleague, retired mercenary, Frank Meyer was or was until he became collateral damage in a East European Mafia gang war. This ‘workmate’ connection is the meagre motivation Crais gives his readers for Joe Pike’s bloody rampage to avenge Frank, and the Meyer family murders. For most of the novel I thought so what? The only characters I cared about were Frank, his two little boys and Cindy, his wife, who hates to watch the news
and they were all dead by the end of chapter one. It read like a Bruce Willis or Matt Damon movie without the emotional tug creating the internal conflict that makes characters so appealing and so interesting. I needed more of a reason, more of a bond between the two men for Joe to go apeshit.
The Meyer family were slaughtered because their nanny was hiding the baby son of a Serbian godfather. This baby was going to be used as a demonstration of strength. The first rule of the title is that no family, mother, father, brother, son baby or otherwise comes between a Mafioso and their vocation. Ten-month-old baby Peter was doomed until Joe Pike steps in. Pike rescues and cares for the infant. Bizarre! Gun slinging action hero turned wet nurse! In this final third of the novel I’m more interested, I’m getting a human side. This is in spite of Joe hiding Peter in a desk drawer, equally bizarre and I think impossible without the baby totally giving the game away.
I found most of the story a slog because of my lack of involvement with the characters. Unsettling point of view shifts gave me no anchor in the story. But, I’m glad I read to the end. Crais satisfyingly winds up the story taking major characters in turn and saves some schmaltz for the final paragraph. There is a pleasing use of a bit part character from earlier on in the novel for some anarchic justice and because he’s probably a nice little earner, Joe lives to rampage another day.
Possibly Crais was relying on his readers being familiar with Pike and his side kick ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’ Elvis Cole, so no introductions were necessary. Maybe he’s given his fan base what they want: a blood-soaked romp through LA and lots of white space on the page provided by characters not versed in the art of conversation. But quite likely, in my opinion, Mr Crais isn’t going to win any new readers with this latest Joe Pike, frustrated family man, novel.
© Janette Carr Feb 2010