Written by Robert Crais — During the time I’ve been writing reviews for Crime Fiction Lover, I’ve laughed, screamed, jumped in fright, and even startled my husband with cries of anguish at the final, shocking twist of a book. Now, dammit, Robert Crais, you made me blub.
I’m ashamed to say that Sunday Times bestseller Crais is an author who had previously slipped below my radar. As well as the popular Cole & Pike series of novels, my research reveals that he wrote scripts for top crime shows like Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey and Miami Vice. And he certainly hasn’t lost the touch, because this book is just crying out to be put on film.
It opens in Afghanistan, where Military Working Dog Maggie is ready to go into action, sniffing out explosives in a war zone. She is a German Shepherd, adored by her handler Pete and the rest of the marines she helps to protect. But when Pete is killed by an improvised explosive device, Maggie is injured and refuses to leave his side.
In Los Angeles, police officers Stephanie Anders and Scott James are on patrol. In the midst of a fruitless search for an all-night diner on the city’s back streets, they stop to regroup, and are suddenly struck by the unnatural silence in a city that never sleeps – but the peace is shattered when they witness a car smash and violent shootout which leaves Stephanie dead and Scott seriously injured.
Jump forward several months, and Scott is trying to piece together his life, his shattered body, and the remnants of memory he has from that fateful night. He could leave the LAPD on medical grounds but is determined to stay put and has signed up to join the K-9 corps – where his total lack of experience with dogs is proving something of a handicap. But then he meets Maggie, whose outward scars show the trauma she went through in Afghanistan. She is also demonstrating signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and jumps at any loud noise… not ideal for a police dog.
Both man and dog are recovering from a shattered past and are deemed ‘suspect’ by the powers that be. As they tentatively begin to work together, it’s clear that this is a last chance for them both. Are they up to the task?
Crais skilfully balances the story of the growing trust between Scott and Maggie with the faltering investigation into Stephanie’s death. The case has hit a brick wall, but when Scott decides to dig a little deeper, he realises that things just don’t add up. As the narrative progresses, we see things from several different perspectives – including that of Maggie the dog. As I write this, my Cocker Spaniel is sleeping beside me, and through Suspect I feel as if I now know him a little better, because Crais has obviously done a lot of research into dogs, their training and psyche.
I’m not revealing what made me cry, but I think every copy of this book should have a pack of tissues attached just in case you’re as sensitive as I was. Thank you, Mr Crais, for a most unusual crime novel.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars
I’ve read and loved every Crais novel, but SUSPECT is, arguably his best work. His deeply intuitive handling of damaged dog and damaged policeman will move you to tears. And, as usual, Los Angeles and its police department are important characters here. You will not be disappointed.