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 ShellSherree.com 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.
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)?
[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.
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!
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