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Q & A with Robert Crais

After a long wait for readers, Robert Crais released The Promise last November. I pounced on it like it was the last piece of bacon post-apocalypse. It’s billed as an Elvis and Joe novel but also includes LAPD officer Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie from Crais’s previous book, Suspect (read my Promise review for Shelf Awareness here).

Crais went on tour right before the holidays, and will appear tomorrow (Saturday) at the Santa Monica Public Library at 3 p.m., as part of the library’s 125th anniversary celebration. But first, he was kind enough to fill out my questionnaire about his adventures and provide glimpses of his life on the road.

Most unexpected experience:

The Promise debuted at #1 on the NY Times e-book list. In November. When dreadnoughts like King, Albom, and Grisham are plowing the pre-Christmas waves. I expected to be swamped.


An enormous, 50-foot statue on the road from Cincinnati to Dayton. I asked my driver, “What’s this?” He said, “Touchdown Jesus. We call it Touchdown Jesus because of how the arms were raised like he’s signaling a TD.” I studied the statue, and didn’t see it. “His arms aren’t raised. They’re spread to the sides.” He nodded. “This is the second Touchdown Jesus. The first was struck by lightning and destroyed. They changed the arms when they built the new one, but he’ll always be Touchdown Jesus to me.”

TD Jesus

Most suspenseful:

The car service hired to drive me from Vero Beach to Jacksonville flaked at the last second. It’s a three-hour drive, and I had to be in Jacksonville for a couple of live radio interviews, so the publicists really had to scramble. They found a replacement, but there was just no way we were going to make it. Too many miles and not enough time. But this new driver? This cat was Han Solo. We blasted up the highway like the Millennium Falcon. I had to, ah, close my eyes a couple of times, but we made it.


Most fun with TSA:

The TSA were great. Three different agents recognized my name, and asked about Elvis and Joe. What’s not to love?

Best meal eaten:

Flounder and fried green tomatoes at The Olde Pink House in Savannah. I’m drooling as I remember.


Most surreal moment:

The bar in the basement of the Olde Pink House. Ghosts.

Most beautiful sight:

I was in New York City when Paris was hit by the terror attacks. The next day, I happened upon Washington Square Park, which was filled with people. I don’t know how many, maybe a few thousand. Here were all these people, Americans, some of whom were waving French flags, who had come together in this spontaneous show of support for France. I found it moving and beautiful. I still do.


Favorite activity between signings:

Flying. No calls, no email, and I’m on to another event.


Favorite souvenir:

Fans brought so many wonderful gifts. Little stuffed German shepherds. Cookies to represent Elvis and Joe and Maggie. I loved them all.

maggie cookies

All photos: Robert Crais. To stalk his snaps, follow him on Facebook and Instagram.


Why Write the Great American Novel When You Can BE in One?

I saw this on Twitter this morning via @PenguinLibrary and thought it was such a fun idea, I had to share. Flavorwire had written an article about a service called U Star Novels that will allow you to insert yourself and your friends into classic novels, Mad Libs-style, for just $24.95. The clear choice for me would be The Hound of the Baskervilles because I’m a Holmesian nut, and second choice would be The Importance of Being Earnest, because it was one of the required-reading books in school I actually enjoyed. I’m also perusing the list of available titles to see which would make good gifts for my sisters, who had both been English majors.

But I also started thinking about which contemporary novels I’d like to insert myself in. Top of the list would probably be something by Robert Crais. If I’m Elvis Cole, that means Joe Pike’s my partner and who wouldn’t want that?? The Cat would also be mine. I’d also consider wedging myself into a Lee Child novel as Jack Reacher, because being a 6′ 5″ asskicking dude is not something I’d ever get to experience in real life.

So, which classic and contemporary novels would you “reimagine” starring yourself?


In Search of a Good Character Name

I recently read three crime novels in which the character names were so over the top that they kept distracting me from the story. I couldn’t focus every time the ridiculous monikers came up because I was either rolling my eyes or snickering. And these were the leads! Instead of continuing to read, I started thinking about what makes a good character name and this post was born.

I’m guessing that the overly dramatic names are meant to make the characters unique. I understand they should be something that if you look in the White Pages (if you still use such a thing), you shouldn’t see eight of them, like you might with a Bill Johnson or Ann Martin. I also get that, say, Larry Brown, may not be sexy enough for a protagonist who’s a spy or former SEAL, and Judy Anderson may be more appropriate for a nice neighbor than an assassin. But when authors go to the other extreme and name their characters along the lines of Brock Savage or Hunter Chevalier—I’m talking thrillers here, not Harlequin romances—I cannot take them seriously. I keep expecting someone to rip open his shirt while caught in the rain in a meadow.

My theory is, the names that work best are those with one unusual name combined with a more common one. Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Dave Robicheaux, Elvis Cole, Sam Spade, Jane Marple, Matthew Scudder. I’ve known people named Jones, Holmes, Dave, Cole, Sam, Jane, and Matthew, so that makes those characters relatable, while the other half of their names sets them apart. Give me two weird names and I’m just going to laugh, wondering if those characters have celebrity parents.

Have character names ever distracted you from an otherwise good story? What are some of your favorite literary names, and why do you like them?


TAKEN by Robert Crais: Q&A and Giveaway

Happy Lunar New Year to those who celebrate it! Today is the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, which sounds like it should be my year but it’s not. I’m actually Year of the Goat, an animal that has facial hair and gets eaten.

Photo: Greg Gorman

But speaking of happy and new, Robert Crais‘s latest novel, Taken, drops tomorrow (Jan. 24, Putnam), and I have a Q&A with him today. The novel moved me so deeply, I almost can’t talk about it for fear of diluting the feeling. So I’ll just say a few words and force encourage you to experience it for yourself.

Taken has the usual action as Elvis Cole and Joe Pike go up against deadly human traffickers, but it’s also a story about love, friendship, compassion, and chasing your dreams. There’s a scene that defines how Joe feels about Elvis, expressed in the only way Joe knows how—wordlessly. It’s breathtaking for both its simplicity and depth of feeling, and one day, when someone compiles a list of iconic scenes in private eye novels that best exemplify the relationship between a detective and his partner, this moment must be on top. It makes you wish you had friends like them; it makes you wish you could be like them.

I’m thrilled to have Robert in the PCN house, answering questions about the different ways he’s been taken (stop snickering) and sharing his personal photos. Afterward, stick around for a little giveaway.

Pop Culture Nerd: What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken (physical or chemical)?

Robert Crais: Prowling through bear country on Admiralty Island, Alaska, and through the East Kootenay Rockies in Canada at 9000 feet before the snow melts. Dangerous, primitive, natural, beautiful. I enjoy physical outdoorsy things like mud runs, scuba diving, and the adventures I have doing research, but the isolation and purity of rugged wilderness areas like inner Admiralty and the East Kootenays call to my heart. If it’s easy to get there, I don’t want to go.

90 feet down in the Gulf of Mexico

With his team, doing the Camp Pendleton Mud Run

PCN: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve been taken for research?

RC: A whorehouse in Mississippi.

No whores here, just doing research with the ATF

PCN: Huh. I noticed you didn’t send over photos of that. Speaking of which, favorite picture you’ve taken?

RC: Sunrise breaking over Los Angeles while the city sleeps.

PCN: Biggest risk ever taken?

RC: Writing L.A. Requiem.

PCN: What do you most fear will be taken from you?

RC: My mental faculties.

PCN: Best advice ever taken?

RC: Write what you love.

PCN: Biggest misTaken assumption about you?

RC: What do people assume?

PCN: I’ll ask them. Last Q—what do you hope will be taken away from Taken?

RC: That people find it exciting, gripping, moving, and truthful.

Thank you, Robert, for answering my questions. Readers, it’s your turn to be Taken. For more info, go to his website or peruse his tour dates on Facebook.

But first, I have a little giveaway. I’m giving away five Elvis Cole Detective Agency business cards with a slogan that comes straight from the novel. I won’t ruin it by showing or saying what it is. If you win one and don’t like spoilers, make sure you read the book before I send it to you!

I printed these cards myself and they are in no way official, but they will be signed by Robert. To enter, leave a comment below answering his question of what you assume about him. Be creative—the more wrong the assumption, the better!

Winners will be chosen randomly via Giveaway is open to everyone, and will end this Sunday, Jan. 29, 5 p.m. PST.

UPDATE: Winners have been announced, and the card looks like this.

Buy Taken from Amazon| From an indie bookstore


I’ve been TAKEN

If my blog activity slows down a bit in the next week or so, it may not be due to my crazy-ass work schedule or Christmas shopping. After all, Christmas came early this year.

No, I might make myself scarce because I’ve been Taken. By Elvis and Joe. To an undisclosed location, where who knows what will happen.

Since I’m magnanimous, I’ll allow you to shove me down the stairs as many times as you wish. Poke me with a stick, blast Michael Bolton music in my face if you must. I’ve got my padded suit on. Let’s go!



THE SENTRY Launch at Diesel Bookstore

Yesterday was pub day for Robert Crais‘s The Sentry and the launch party was held at Diesel Bookstore in Santa Monica, CA. Of course I had to go because I heard there’d be food. Yes, I cleared a whole tray of potatoes and some chocolate thingies but that’s not the best part.

There was a great turnout (I stood in line for about 17 hours to get my book signed), with many familiar faces in the crowd. Authors Gregg Hurwitz, Brett Battles and Gerald Petievich were there, so were my friends Debbie and Laurie, blogger extraordinaire Michael (le0pard13) with his son A., and Crais’s website manager/creator of the newsletters, Carol T. I also got to meet Steve, the nice man who let Crais go to the bathroom in his house while Crais was shooting his Sentry video down in Venice. Steve said I’m welcome to use his toilet, too. Score!

Crais shared rave reviews for his novel and a few fan letters (someone who’s a regular here was quoted—you’ll see when you attend his Belmont signing!) before reading a couple of passages and signing books. I won’t give away spoilers; you’ll just have to make one of his appearances if he’s in your city to experience all the fun.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos:

Crais with Debbie

I’m standing on tiptoes here, with one leg swinging in mid-air:

Man sandwich with Crais, Battles & Michael

And what a difference a year makes. Last year when I showed up, I got this reaction from Crais:

This year, I got this:

For the win!


Book Discussion: Robert Crais’s L.A. REQUIEM

Last August, Jeff over at Stuff Running ‘Round My Head wrote a piece on Robert Crais‘s watershed novel L.A. Requiem that got a bunch of us other fans wanting to re-read it, too. I then suggested we have an online discussion about it so we can share our thoughts with old and new fans alike.

Our session took place this past Saturday with Michael from Lazy Thoughts from a Boomer, Naomi from The Drowning Machine, Jen from Jen’s Book Thoughts, Rachel from Scientist Gone Wordy, Christine from The Christine ‘Zine, Shell from and me in the chat room. To tie in with Crais’s The Sentry being released tomorrow, here are snippets from our discussion of what some consider the unofficial first Joe Pike novel.

[Michael, Naomi, Christine and I started the conversation with Jen, Rachel and Shell joining in later.]

Pop Culture Nerd: What was your reaction after reading this book? The first time vs. re-reading?

Naomi: The first time—awestruck. This time, still impressed.

Christine: What Naomi said.

Michael: When I first read LAR, given that I started at the beginning and read in order, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for some time, [how] RC had built up to this in the previous [books] and then JUMPED from there.

Naomi: What is it we all love about this book? Why is it a great book?

PCN: It’s not only a smart detective story, it’s an incredibly moving book about the different forms of love, between Elvis & Joe, E and Lucy, E and Dolan, E and the cat, Joe and Paulette, Karen for Joe…

Christine: Well said. The relationships are a huge draw for me. Glad I’m not the only one noting the cat’s relationship.

Naomi: Yeah, the love. Joe’s sacrifice for Paulette is so wrenching.


Michael: Dolan’s tragic yearning and end, too. What I treasure about LAR is how layered it is. Plus, the character study of Cole and Pike as very human heroes.

Naomi: I hated losing Dolan.

PCN: Did anyone feel Dolan shouldn’t have been killed off?

Naomi: Yeah, I’d like for her to have stayed. She could arm-wrestle Starkey for dibs.

Christine: I was on the fence with Dolan’s demise.

PCN: I think it’s smart she was killed off. She burned bright and fast through Elvis’s life (and our consciousness) and that makes her more memorable.


[At this point, Jen showed up in the chat room.]

PCN: Have you read and listened to LAR?

Jen: Yes. 2x each.

Michael: 1 read, 3 re-listens.

Naomi: 2 reads and 1.5 listens.

PCN: Differences between audio and book for you? Was narrator able to bring nuances you missed from reading?

Jen: Yes and no. Some, I went, “Oh, I missed that.” Others, I said, “That’s not what it should sound like.” And while no one but Bob seemed to have Pike’s “sound” for me, I think [Ron McLarty] did a good job with Pike’s tone.

Naomi: I don’t appreciate the nuances as much with audio, the use of structure and language. All the different points of view RC uses, the switches in tense, stuff that was a no-no before this book—I don’t get all that when I’m listening.

PCN: Even though he used third person for the non-Elvis scenes, the voice is not the same throughout. Pike’s 3rd person is not the same as Sobek’s…

Jen: No, it shouldn’t be. It’s limited 3rd.

PCN: Yes, not the omniscient 3rd.

Jen: Exactly!

Naomi: You’re right! Plus, scenes with Elvis are in past tense, but with the killer they’re present tense. I don’t pick up on those kinds of things in audio.

PCN: And, amazingly, it all works. Different tenses, so many POVs, but it all comes together and was never confusing for me.

Jen: That’s why it was groundbreaking!

Naomi: Yeah, it’s stunning. Breaks every rule of that time. RC wrote new rules. I see other writers break these same rules but it’s not as effective because they do it for effect, not because the story demands it. I think [LAR] works because this is the only way the story could be told and still maintain the tension.

Christine: Also, one of the few books that goes to different timelines that never drove me nuts. That can REALLY drive me up a wall and ruin the reading experience for me.

[Rachel joined us here.]

Rachel: I would miss that probably since LAR was the first of the series I read and Crais was my intro to mystery/thriller. My mystery/thriller background was riddled with bad picks so I stayed away until 2010 when a different reading community keyed me into Crais. Once I started, y’all found me and the rest was history.

Christine: Naomi, you asked about favorite scenes earlier. SOOOOO many…Cole and Watts crying in Dolan’s apt. and Cole taking down the pic of him Dolan had on fridge.

PCN: I like how Joe was reading Basho, the poet who wrote the poem about the monkey needing a raincoat.

Naomi: I love that whole scene with Joe and the sergeants.


PCN: Love that Gunnery Sgt. Aimes said a poet would die for a rose, that warriors need to also be poets, and then when Joe was shot, the blood bloomed on his back like a rose.

Naomi: First read, I cried over Joe’s childhood scenes.

Michael: My son’s been listening to LAR, he said he felt completely touched and uncomfortable with the scene of Joe stopping the burning of the cat. I guess that’s the power of LAR. RC crafted so many scenes, comfortable and uncomfortable ones, that really get to the reader.


Rachel: Pike question—why do you think he’s got the glasses? Is it to cover the eyes? Which would make him more conspicuous?

Michael: LAR covered some of the issues with Pike and the sunglasses. “Cat eyes” and sensitivity to light.

Jen: I think the eyes are the window to the soul and Pike doesn’t let people in that easily.

PCN: Probably because he feels more comfortable in the shadows. If he walks around with those startlingly light eyes, people would stare.

Rachel: But don’t the glasses in the dark make people stare? Why is that better?

Naomi: He could stare back. I’d let him.

PCN: I don’t think people can see him in the dark. He’s often described as moving like smoke. Even Elvis can’t see him sometimes.

Rachel: Joe not liking to be seen and his Conspicuous Dress habit is one of my suspension-of-disbelief things.

Jen: I don’t think that it’s so much he doesn’t like to be seen physically as much as it is who is INSIDE. If he wants to sneak around, you’ll not see his glasses or his dress.

Michael: But, Rachel, haven’t you noticed certain of us guys always wear the same things (as my wife reminds me)?

Rachel: Hehe.

[Naomi had to leave the chat.]

PCN: OK, more favorite scenes?

Christine: Elvis in shock that cat let Dolan pet him.

Rachel: I love the scene where Cole is talking to Lucy after she finds out some of Pike’s history. When he’s explaining that whatever Joe is, he is, too, is very powerful to me.

Jen: Good thing you said that after Naomi left! Ha! [Ed. note: Naomi hates Lucy with the intensity of a thousand suns.]

PCN: How do you feel about Lucy, Rachel?

Rachel: I hear there are serious Lucy haters. I don’t think about her enough to hate or like her. Since I read LAR first, it might not be quite as thoughtful as what others take away but the first moment she mentioned a kid I was like, This will never work. Cole can’t have a kid in his life.

PCN: I think Lucy-hate is unfair. Her first priority has to be her kid, as much as she loves Elvis. As a parent, you’d freak out, too, if your kid is put in danger because of your boyfriend.

Rachel: I actually think RC has been really realistic with Lucy’s response to the type of life Cole leads. Pretty brave of him when so many authors take the novel way out and don’t describe these things as they would probably happen to keep the relationship going.

Michael: I’ll grudgingly give points to Elyse and Rachel about Lucy. Still don’t like her for Elvis, though.

Jen: The point I really hate Lucy comes when she blames Elvis for what her ex is wholly responsible for.

PCN: When did she do that?

Christine: The Last Detective.

Jen: Thank you, Chris! The ex put everything into motion and Lucy, even when she has all the info, blames Elvis.

Rachel: That’s another time where I think RC did the real, brave thing. She’s freaking out and not using her head as she normally would. I can see that happening. What were folks’ reaction to Dolan?

Jen: I was heartbroken when Dolan died. I liked her. She was tough to cover up the insecurities, like so many of us are.

Rachel: I think I like her better for her brevity. Had she stuck around I don’t know that I would have liked her. I wonder if we really got a good look at her. I think even she was surprised at her behavior. I go back and forth between that being deliberate or simply a weakly written character (don’t shoot!).

Michael: I liked Dolan for her choice in spirits.

[Shell shows up in the chat room at this point.]

Shell: Hi everyone! I enjoyed both characters, but felt for Lucy. I kind of had a sense of Dolan having a bit of  “bad girl” appeal for Elvis.

Rachel: Has Joe’s love of Paulette already been discussed?

Christine: I thought Joe’s scene with Paulette was a heartwrenching love scene. That was just so rich and emotional to me. An excellent example of why I love RC’s writing. And I looooved that she was written as looking like an ordinary, real woman.

Jen: I loved that, too, Chris.

Michael: Most startling moment in LAR for me—Elvis finding that picture at Paulette’s where Joe is smiling.

PCN: Yes! That picture made my heart hurt.

Christine: YES! Did you feel that it might have hurt E to see that smile in the photo?

PCN: I think so, because it’s a realization that even he can’t make Joe smile and Joe hasn’t had anything to smile about since that picture.

Jen: No, I don’t.

Michael: Second that.

Jen: Because Elvis has experienced his love with Lucy.

Michael: Question—do any of you feel you’re missing anything in that RC does not write explicit love scenes like, say, Don Winslow?

Jen: No! That’s one of my big pet peeves about Winslow. I think RC says more in his scenes than Winslow does in his drawn-out scenes.

Rachel: I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I can take sex scenes either way as long as they work with the stories and the characters. I think RC writes about relationships and his style is not to focus too heavily on the sex. Works fine for me.

PCN: Shell, how did you feel about LAR having already read First Rule? Most of us didn’t know anything about Joe until LAR.

Rachel: I remember thinking it was quite funny that RC was working so hard to convince me of what a badass Joe was. I’m like, yeah, he made a cop shit his pantz! I’m so on board with how tough he is. But on a more serious note, I think I was able to immediately become really invested in the E/J relationship and it’s made it a really deep literary partnership in my reading world.

PCN: I like how they can openly say “I love you” to each other without fearing any kind of gay understones.

Rachel: ROFLMAO! Was understones on purpose!????

PCN: No! I meant undertones.

Michael: Freudian?

Shell: Hahaha! Elyse, I found LAR quite different, as First Rule I found Joe to be the primary character and didn’t get much of a sense of who Elvis was. When I went back and read LAR, I loved Elvis so much, I then felt a bit Elvis-deprived in hindsight with regards to FR!

Jen: I love that they themselves recognize their love for each other and aren’t afraid of it.

Michael: LAR’s ending is one of my all-time favorite conclusions to a novel. It was beautifully reflective.

PCN: Yes! I love how Elvis is sitting up on Mulholland, shot, beaten down, and the owl is asking “Who?” as in “Who will protect this great city?” Who will do the right thing? At first, E doesn’t answer, but then he says, “Me.” And I love him for that. Despite everything, he will always step up to do the right thing and save the world.

Christine: Very good point. It would be so easy to say “Screw you. I’ll take care of myself and get my woman back on her terms.”


We also discussed the other books in the series and P.I. novel conventions in general but since this is a tribute to LAR, I think I’ll stop here. If you haven’t read it, it’s obviously highly recommended. If you have, get ready for more Pike in The Sentry!

Buy The Sentry from Amazon| B&N| IndieBound| Powell’s

[These are associates programs.]


Stalking the Author

I was getting impatient sitting around waiting for Robert Crais‘s next book, The Sentry. Yeah, I know it’s coming out January 11 but that’s five lousy months.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and jumped into my car. Crais lives here in the city of angels, there are only about three million people—how hard can he be to find? They don’t call me the Nerd for nothin’.

After seven hours of driving the neon-dotted streets, begging for scraps of info from hookers and residents of dark alleys, I found him having drinks in a dimly lit bar where you can’t smoke anymore but can still smell it in the bartender’s hair. Someone played blue notes on the sax in the background while someone else danced slowly with himself.

When Crais saw me coming, he gave me weary eyes and simply asked “Why?” without missing a sip. I said, “Because I lose sleep at night and can’t take it anymore.” He nodded as if he’d always known, reached into his pants and handed this over. I ran out of the bar, clutching the manuscript to my bosom, and never looked back.


What’s in a Name?

I recently asked Robert Crais fans in the Craisie Town part of my forum how their feelings about Elvis Cole would be affected if he’d been named something else, like Larry Jones. Blogger le0pard13 said he probably wouldn’t have started reading the books if that were the case, especially if Larry’s partner was named something like Lev Coen instead of Joe Pike.

This got me thinking about how character names play a large part in determining whether or not we want to read or watch something. Can you imagine Mark Twain’s tale about Huckleberry Finn being called The Adventures of Herbert Melton? Would 007 be as popular if he introduces himself as “Luftenhoser. Stan Luftenhoser”?

I think for the most part, authors put a lot of thought into character names, trying to make the moniker represent the personality. Crais has said he chose Elvis for his P.I. to let readers know they’re getting someone a little different, not your typical hard-drinking loner detective. Michael Connelly has made known Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch is named after the painter who created visions of chaos because Harry encounters chaos at every murder scene. And I think the last name of Sophie Littlefield‘s Stella Hardesty sounds like “hard as steel,” which she is.

So, have you ever picked up a book simply because you liked a protagonist’s name? Ever shunned a novel or movie because you didn’t? What if Harry Potter had been Harvey Scarsburn?


One Cool DRINK

Reading a good book is always a pleasure, but there’s something extra exciting about discovering a new author and his smashing debut, a PWA winner for Best First Private Eye Novel. Thomas Kaufman‘s Drink the Tea is a witty, fast-paced mystery that made me hope, only a few pages in, that it’ll be turned into a series.

Willis Gidney is an orphan who spent his childhood in and out of foster homes, becoming an expert at stealing and lying, heading for a life of crime until he gets taken in by Captain Shadrack Davies of the D.C. Police. The experience changes him, not completely, but enough so that he grows up to be a smart-ass D.C. private eye.

An old acquaintance, jazz musician Steps Jackson, asks Gidney to find his daughter, Bobbie, the result of a one-night stand twenty-five years ago. Supposed to be a straightforward missing persons case but right away, thugs show up to rough up Gidney, people start dying, and Gidney realizes he’s stumbled upon something which might involve a powerful corporation and a corrupt congressman.

The story jumps back and forth between the present case and Gidney’s time in foster care, slowly doling out what happened between Gidney and Davies during their short stint together. Gidney has a quick wit, but we find it was born as survival instinct. We get to witness Gidney’s evolution from problem child to a man trying to do the right thing, if sometimes reluctantly.

Kaufman, an Emmy-winning cinematographer who’s shot shows like The FBI Files and The New Detectives, brings his eye for detail to his writing and excels in showing instead of telling. He describes a picture of a boy in a high-school yearbook thusly:

His interests included biology, chemistry, debate. He looked apologetic, as though his violin lesson had run over and he’d shown up late to chess club.

Kaufman didn’t need to write “nerd”; the description couldn’t be clearer. And instead of using variations on the word “big,” the author writes that an internet cafe “had an espresso bar the size of Congress but with less hot air,” and about “a pair of shoes that would have won me free tuition to Clown School.”

Gidney’s background and sensibilities make him part Elvis Cole, Robert Crais’s wisecracking P.I. who was an old youngster once; and Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly’s foster-care-raised detective whose biggest mystery is his own lineage. Since those two are top of my list of favorite series characters, Gidney is in lofty company indeed.

Nerd verdict: Drink this


Exclusive First Look at Robert Crais's FIRST RULE

Photo © Pop Culture Nerd

Last week, author Robert Crais unveiled excerpts from his hotly anticipated novel, The First Rule, at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego, California. The pub date is vaguely scheduled for January or February 2010. (UPDATE: At Crais’s site, it now says January 12, 2010.) But wait! Stop banging your head against your desk, please! Crais let me tape his reading to share with those who couldn’t attend.

Since this is a Joe Pike novel, I’ll be Pike-like and keep the setup brief. Somebody murdered a friend and former colleague of Pike’s. HUGE mistake. With Elvis Cole’s help, Pike goes hunting, ready to unleash some serious hurt on the perpetrators. Yay!

Crais read three different passages, one in each video. Afterwards, check out the teaser Q & A I did with him about The First Rule. (UPDATE: Win an ARC and read my longer interview here.)

Watch, read, then let me know your thoughts!

PCN: My mother taught me the first rule is to always wear clean underwear in case I get in an accident. What does the first rule in your title refer to?

Robert Crais: The meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so take your pick: The East European organized crime gang sets operate under eighteen written rules called the Vorovskoy Zakon—which means the thieves’ code—the first rule of which says they’re not supposed to have a family. But the title, The First Rule, might also be interpreted from Joe Pike’s point of view, which suggests his first rule is that you take care of the people you love, and everything that implies. And if that’s the case, then the first rule for the rest of us is pretty simple: Don’t piss off Joe Pike.

PCN: In the excerpt, you mentioned how Pike’s walls are empty. Why isn’t Elvis on there?

RC: Elvis is in Joe’s heart.

PCN: What’s on your walls?

RC: I have more people in my life than Joe has. My walls are filled with pictures of my family, my friends, cool things that have happened along the way. Art. A couple of human heads. The usual.

PCN: You seem to take pop culture cues for your author photos. For The Two Minute Rule, it was the Brokeback look, and you’ve got an Agent Smith, Matrix thing going on with the last two books. What do you have in mind for the next one? Lederhosen a la Brüno?

RC: I was going for the lederhosen look until Brüno swiped it. Fashion is such a bitch, I’ve decided to pass on clothes. We’re going with a nude shot.

Look who's nerdy---me & Crais

Look who's nerdy--me & Crais, WITH clothes

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