Two words. Two very simple, straightforward words. And yet they may well mark the most important moment in the entirety of the fifteen books that comprise author Robert Crais’s bestselling Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series.
Taken, the most recent entry, finds private investigator Elvis hired by Nita Morales, a local businesswoman whose daughter has gone missing. Convinced her daughter has merely taken a break from college and run off with her boyfriend, Morales would still like Elvis to track her down.
Elvis’s investigation quickly uncovers disturbing evidence suggesting the young couple was actually abducted by bajadores, modern day highwaymen who target both those trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the coyotes (guides) who transport them. Known to be especially ruthless, bajadores won’t hesitate to kill people they’ve abducted if they’re unable to get their families to pay a ransom.
Enlisting the help of his (very) silent partner Joe Pike, Elvis devises a plan to go undercover and locate not just the missing couple, but a group of over 30 other people who were abducted at the same time. Unfortunately the plan goes sideways and Elvis himself is abducted by the bajadores. But if the bajadores think they’re ruthless, they’ve got another thing coming… Joe Pike. Along with the charismatic and equally deadly Jon Stone (about whom readers are treated to more details than in any of his previous appearances), Pike begins systematically working his way through the bajadores in his quest to rescue Elvis, a man who is not only his friend, but who is arguably his only friend.
Taken works on two levels. On the one hand it tells the sad story of the human trafficking which does, unfortunately, take place nearly daily along the U.S.-Mexico border. Completely within the framework of the story, Crais manages to convey the startling and disturbing details of how the bajadores operate, preying on vulnerable people who are already risking everything they have in order to seek a better life. Yet never does Crais come across as preachy or pushing an agenda. Instead he focuses on the human element, even that of the bajadores, if only to show how they’ve lost their humanity.
On a deeper level, however, Taken is noteworthy for longtime fans of the series as representing the most revealing look to date at the relationship between Elvis and Joe and the depth of their commitment to one another. They are business partners and friends, yes. Deeper than that though, they are really two halves of a whole, neither of whom can ever fully be complete without the other around to bring out the best and offset the worst. So, back to those two words.
“Got you.” As fans of the series are well aware, Pike is a man of (very) few words. He means exactly what he says, and he only says it if absolutely necessary. In fact, the most powerful moments in Taken occur without need of any dialogue at all, including an absolutely brilliant scene in which Pike and Elvis’s cat – both standoffish, scarred, non-verbal creatures by nature – share their distress over Elvis’s absence. Combine that with a deeply moving scene where Pike carries out a common task which symbolizes the uncommon bond between him and Elvis and, well, who the hell needs dialogue? Not Pike. And not Crais either, which demonstrates what an amazingly gifted author he truly is.
It’s also why those two words, when they are spoken by Pike to Elvis, are so powerful… and why nothing more needs to be said.
Taken is available from Putnam (ISBN: 978-0399158278), and you do not have to have read previous entries in the series to enjoy the book. Having said that, if I could only recommend one series to people it would be this one, so if you’re not yet reading it do yourself a favor – and do it right – by going back to the beginning.
– Taken by Robert Crais: Read by Luke Daniels –
Those of you who like audiobooks can check out a sample of the Brilliance Audio edition as read by Luke Daniels.