James Buckley

If you've read one Larry Bond novel (The Enemy Within, Red Phoenix, etc.), you've probably read them all. Of course, if you've read them all, then you're like me, and you've continued to enjoy his escapist, globe-trotting thrillers and tales of semi-plausible headlong plunges toward the end of the world as we know it. Do the good guys win? I'll give you one good guess. Are the bad guys really, really bad . . . I mean bad on a world-shaking, civilization-destroying level? Sure are. Is the technology pretty darned cool and yet at the same time frighteningly real? Yes again, and that's the heart of Bond's success, especially in his latest, Day of Wrath. Bond, who was an uncredited partner and consultant on Tom Clancy's early books, knows his stuff, and his expertise shows in descriptions of everything from handguns to nuclear missiles.

The heroes of 1997's Enemy Within, Colonel Peter Thorn and FBI Special Agent Helen Gray, return in Day of Wrath to battle yet another Middle Eastern terrorist overlord bent on destroying the decadent country of America. (One quibble: It seems sort of easy and predictable to make the villain an Arab . . . again. Surely there are bad guys elsewhere. In Bond's favor, though: The top henchmen of key villain Prince Ibrahim are ex-East German secret policeman. It's a new world.) The action moves from the forests of Russia to the streets of Berlin to Washington, D.

C.'s Virginia suburbs, with stops for gunplay at many places along the way. The reason for all the chasing is that Thorn and Gray are the only people who know the secret of Ibrahim's “Operation,” a secret I won't reveal here, but suffice to say the title of the book is appropriate. The duo is forced to take extreme measures to safeguard themselves and the secret in a typically nail-biting race to the “whew-that-was-close” climax. Along the way, the romance between Thorn and Gray that budded in the previous Bond book blooms brightly. Their between-the-gunshots romantic by-play seems a little forced sometimes, but gives a more human flavor to the out-there proceedings.

However out-there the plot gets, the kernel of truth and dangerous possibility that lies at its heart forces the reader to consider the “what-if factor.” I hope that if there's a real Prince Ibrahim out there, we have more than just two people to stop him, but for now, the resourceful Thorn and the sturdy Gray will do nicely.

Reviewed by James Buckley, Jr.

If you've read one Larry Bond novel (The Enemy Within, Red Phoenix, etc.), you've probably read them all. Of course, if you've read them all, then you're like me, and you've continued to enjoy his escapist, globe-trotting thrillers and tales of semi-plausible headlong plunges toward the end of the world as we know it. Do […]

Write what you know. While writers are told that every day, a writer's work is naturally that much better if what they know is pretty cool stuff. In Scott Turow's latest book, Personal Injuries, the best-selling legal thriller writer takes what he knows his personal experience as a prosecutor in a major judicial corruption probe and turns it into a fast-paced and intricate story that is as much about what goes on in people's heads as what goes on in courtrooms.

Turow, author of the top-selling Presumed Innocent and Burden of Proof, draws on his background as a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago to weave a tale of undercover operatives and deception. But he makes the characters especially Robbie Feaver, the personal injury lawyer who is flipped by the prosecution and used as a stalking horse to rein in corrupt judges as complex as the plot. Instead of creating what could have been stock players in a typical genre story, Turow, as he does in all his books, gives his characters a depth and a humanity that make their troubles that much more deeply felt.

BookPage spoke to Turow about the legal background that led to the story, about personal injury lawyers, and about being undercover both in life and in law.

BookPage: How close was your own experience [in the early 1980s] to the case in this book?

Scott Turow: A lot of the events in the book are things that I witnessed first-hand. When I was an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I had a large role in cases such as this one. There was one large undercover project, called Operation Greylord, that was aimed at the judiciary in Illinois. I was assigned to run a decoy, above-ground, highly visible investigation of judicial corruption in one court, while the undercover operation was going on in the criminal court. Then I was assigned to try to flip a criminal lawyer whom we had a case on. All the while, I was in this world of need-to-know. I knew there was an undercover investigation, but I didn't know who they were or what they were doing. I was working side by side with them and didn't know. It was kind of weird. In some ways, this book was the story of what I witnessed and took part in.

BP: Talk about the life of the undercover operative that you observed, and that you put in the book. [Note: One character, FBI agent Evon Miller, spends nearly a year undercover working with Feaver as a paralegal.]

ST: They try to get folks in places where they're as close as possible to their own life. I've known agents who pretended to be Mafiosi or to be fences, which are actually very far from who they really are. I remember a female IRS agent who posed as a Mobster girlfriend for a time. Most of them don't live it for the extended period of time that Evon did. But the guys I knew who infiltrated a crime family in Milwaukee did so for more than a year. It's a tough life.

BP: Working with witnesses such as Robbie must be difficult. You have to ask them to do a tough job, and support them while they do it. Yet you know that they're criminals. How do you handle that as a prosecutor?

ST: Those kind of dilemmas are commonplace when you're a prosecutor. You're always in that position with the flipper witnesses. It's a very ambiguous relationship. You've pursued these people, they want to ingratiate themselves with you to get a lower sentence, you want something from them . . . but you know in the end you're going to stand up in court and ask to have them sent away. What happens is that you develop some complicated personal relationships. You hate their guts when you see them for what they are, but you can also become beguiled by them in a certain way. At the end of the day, you get mixed feelings about standing up and saying, Send him to the penitentiary. Experiences like that were really the inspiration for Robbie.

BP: Speaking of Robbie, you cast him as a personal injury lawyer, the kind of lawyer who often gives lawyers a bad name . . . the ambulance chaser. What do you think of that profession in general?

ST: As the novel presents, there is a scamming aspect to the acquisition of business by these types of lawyers, and because they have a vested financial interest that gives them an inclination to push the envelope. In Robbie's case, that was pushed a lot further than is right by anyone's definition. All of those aspects tend to bring some personal injury lawyers into disrepute. On the other hand, as the novel is pretty honest about and notwithstanding some of the egregious aspects of their work, many really do care about their clients. You have to give them an enormous amount of credit in this country for having been responsible for a lot of reforms that benefit individuals, especially in the areas of sexual harassment, civil rights, and consumer rights. The plaintiff's bar has been responsible for bringing to heel huge vested interests that were beyond the corralling of the political system.

BP: Two sides to every coin, it seems. That's a big part of this book, in fact of many of your books.

ST: Yes, that's a pretty durable Turow theme. Everyone has two sides. The tension is between the reality of life and who human beings really are. Everyone is pretty well intended in this book, even the crook Robbie and the overbearing prosecutor Stan Sennett. Sennett's goals are good ones, he's just over the top. It's the inability of the laws and institutions to accommodate these fine differences in people that has always provided a theme for me. In this case, it's particularly helpful to have that theme. The thematic wedge into this notion is the idea of being undercover, of playing a role, and that everyone is trying to pretend to be something that they're not.

James Buckley Jr. is an associate editor with NFL Publishing in Los Angeles. He is the author of Eyewitness Football.

Write what you know. While writers are told that every day, a writer's work is naturally that much better if what they know is pretty cool stuff. In Scott Turow's latest book, Personal Injuries, the best-selling legal thriller writer takes what he knows his personal experience as a prosecutor in a major judicial corruption probe […]

Elvis has left the city L.

A. Requiem, the eighth and newest Elvis Cole novel by Robert Crais, is like a bride: it brings something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. The old is the familiar pairing of Los Angeles private eye Elvis Cole and his partner, the violent yet noble Joe Pike. The new is that much of this story is told in third-person some from Pike's point of view and some from an omniscient narrator's.

The borrowed is the fact that Crais has dipped into other genres to enliven this book. Departing from his standard mystery novel style, he has added a sinister and suspenseful thriller plot element . . . which of course we won't reveal here. And the blue is the uniform of the LAPD, which plays a very large role in the story as both villain and hero.

With seven solid novels behind him, and a growing legion of fans, why has Crais departed so boldly from what has worked before? Well, like his hero, he doesn't mind taking risks, if it's in a good cause. I wanted to write a deeper book, Crais says. The characters have been there for seven novels, but I felt the need to expand. I wanted to push out the boundaries of the way I write detective novels. I wanted a larger book. In length, complexity, depth, and seriousness, he has succeeded. The many twists of the complicated plot take Elvis and Joe deep into Pike's past, a past that before this book has been only darkly hinted at. Joe's backstory has been growing for me, Crais says. In general terms I've always known the type of home he grew up in. But the specifics of it I created when I was writing. That was one of the many adventures on this book. Elvis's ongoing relationship with Louisiana lawyer Lucy Chenier also goes through some adventures, as Pike's problems intrude on her and Elvis in new and dangerous ways. In this book, Elvis has to make tougher personal choices than he's ever had to make, Crais hints. And Lucy is learning things about Joe that scare her, and then she drops that on Elvis. He has to make a choice. Negotiating Elvis's psyche and developing a detailed history for the fascinating Pike, a former Marine and LAPD officer, was only one of the challenges Crais faced. The amount of investigative detail in L.

A. Requiem adds police procedural to mystery and thriller in the cocktail that is the book. I've done ride-alongs with LAPD for years now, he says. But for this book I learned more about more areas. I needed to know how homicide detectives work at a crime scene, how they interrelate with coroner's investigators, how Robbery-Homicide differs from a precinct's homicide desk, how a task force is structured. To assist in that research, Crais called on the fruits of his first writing career for television. After moving to Los Angeles from Louisiana in the 1970s, Crais worked on scripts for many TV shows, including Quincy, Baretta, L.

A. Law, Hill Street Blues, and Miami Vice. The law enforcement contacts and knowledge of police work that he gained have proved invaluable.

Also useful was his family history. Three uncles and two cousins are or were police officers. I know that under the badge police are just like anyone else, except they know a kind of cynical truth about people that they carry with them. This cynicism contrasts sharply with Cole's trademark optimism. His skills are not in clues and legwork, but in reading people, understanding motivations. Cole can smash down a door or take a villain with the best of them, but his tender side is more evident than his sidearm.

And after meeting Crais, who says all my characters in one way or the other are me, one understands why. Elvis is the work he has aimed for since he was shooting Super-8 movies in his back yard in Baton Rouge, since he wrote short story after short story and got endless rejection slips. Elvis works out, likes to cook, and collects Disneyana. So does Crais.

What is not so apparent is that, as Crais puts it, Joe is me, too. I can use Joe to explore some of the darker corners of me. In this book, though, I reveal to people that Joe is a very human, albeit controlled, person. Most people would point to Joe's past and say that he's not a law-abiding person. But Joe is a good man. Crais grew up in Baton Rouge, a town he describes as solidly blue-collar, and one in which a creative kid who writes comics and short stories and who films movies is the craziest kid in town. People don't grow up there wanting to become writers. Crais broke that mold. When you're 16 years old and you read Raymond Chandler for the first time, it knocks you over to think that a human being can do that on a page. It's like making magic. I said that's what I want to do. He moved to Los Angeles after a series of odd jobs. He studied sample television scripts for format. Without a TV in his house, he hung out in department stores, watching shows and taking notes. Then I started writing scripts, I found an agent through a friend, and eventually one of them sold. But novels were still on his mind, two dust-gathering, self-described horrible manuscripts notwithstanding. Then, in 1985, in a real-life plot twist, Crais's father passed away.

My mom was terrified. They had been married for 42 years and she had never written a check, never paid a bill. And we went through a period where our roles were reversed. It was while I was wrestling with that that Elvis Cole was born. In The Monkey's Raincoat, published in 1987, Cole takes a woman named Ellen Lang under his wing after her husband is murdered and her son kidnapped. I like to think that I was given a Calvin and Hobbes transmogrifier that converted me into Elvis and my mom into Ellen Lang, Crais says. That sense of intimate caring, that feeling of assurance that comes through even amid Cole's wisecracks and attitude, is what makes the series so successful.

L.

A. Requiem ends with Cole musing on the city he calls home, the city that, more than in any other Crais novel, plays a role equal to any character's. Cole almost revels in the transitory nature of the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles. Crais has the same feelings.

All that stuff that he says at the end, that's my L.

A., he says. People come here to make their dreams come true. That's why it's such a powerful and edgy place. There's such a sense of transition. Things have to change. Even detectives in novels and the way they are written. Life for Elvis will only get more complicated, Crais concludes.

James Buckley, Jr., is an associate editor with NFL Publishing in Los Angeles. His latest sports book for kids, Eyewitness Football, will be published in September by DK Publishing and the NFL.

Elvis has left the city L. A. Requiem, the eighth and newest Elvis Cole novel by Robert Crais, is like a bride: it brings something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. The old is the familiar pairing of Los Angeles private eye Elvis Cole and his partner, the violent yet noble Joe Pike. […]

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