Robert Crais goes to the dog with ‘Suspect’

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If you know Robert Crais, you probably know him from his series of Los Angeles-based crime novels about private eyes Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Crais has ventured into non-series books a few times, but most of his novels have revolved around smart-aleck Cole and cool and deadly Pike. Interestingly, Crais has thrown a few change-ups even in the Cole and Pike series, making Pike the lead in some and Cole the lead in others.

“Suspect,” Crais’ latest book, focuses instead on Scott James, an LAPD uniform officer who, as the story opens, is preparing to leave his Adam patrol car and partner, Stephanie, for a department management fast track.

At the same time, Crais introduces us to Maggie, a smart and loyal German Shepherd patrol dog in the Marines in Afghanistan. Maggie and her handler are ambushed by insurgents. Her handler – the Alpha in her pack – is killed and Maggie is seriously injured.

At the same time, Scott and Stephanie have the misfortune of rolling up on a deadly ambush in LA’s mean streets. A carload of shooters kills several people and then train their guns on Scott and Stephanie. Scott is badly wounded and Stephanie is killed.

A few months later, Scott and Maggie are paired up in a LAPD K-9 training program. They have a lot in common: Both lost their partners and both suffer from PTSD.

Most of “Suspect” follows Scott and Maggie as they become a pack and work to recover from their traumatic experiences. As the two are training to be K-9 partners, Scott also pushes along the investigation into the ambush that left his first partner dead.

Like the best crime drama heroes, Scott isn’t afraid to take risks by pursuing suspects and potential witnesses to that fateful night, even risking trouble with the police brass. And like the best crime drama heroes, Maggie is brave and fiercely loyal to her new pack.

There’s not a lot of similarity in tone, but some readers might find “Suspect” reminiscent of Spencer Quinn’s novels about detective partners Chet and Bernie. In Quinn’s books, Chet narrates the entire tale from a dog’s point of view and there’s considerable humor. That’s not the case here, even though some chapters are from Maggie’s POV. If the Quinn books sound too cute, I can assure you they’re really not. And Crais’ story definitely is not.

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I won’t spoil the ending, obviously, but it’s possible that Crais might give us another tale of Scott and Maggie. Their return would be most welcome.

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