Although The Sentry focuses on Joe Pike, the investigation-based plot is more similar to an Elvis Cole story. Joe and Elvis are good friends and business partners in Los Angeles: Elvis is a licenced private investigator and Joe an ex-mercenary, ex-cop who owns a “gun shop” but essentially spends his time cruising around protecting Elvis, keeping fit, and looking for ways to keep himself occupied. That is what Joe is up to as The Sentry’s main section opens; he’s filling his jeep with “gas” (not sure if petrol or diesel!) when he witnesses what seems to be a robbery with violence in a sandwich bar on the other side of the street. Being Joe, he rapidly sorts out the baddies and gives his card to the victims, an elderly man called Wilson and his niece, Dru, in case they experience further trouble.
Joe’s attracted to Dru so goes the extra mile, discovering who is head of the gang whose members committed the crime (he knows a gang is involved because the perpetrators are tattooed). He extracts a promise that Wilson and Dru will be left in peace, so is most put out (or maybe furious, it is not easy to tell with Joe who is one of those silent types who never takes his sunglasses off) to find that the bar has been desecrated, and that Wilson and Dru have disappeared. Have they fled, been abducted, or worse?
Joe calls his friend Elvis to help him investigate the case. Together, the two men find out where the victims live and begin to follow up clues. They get tangled up with the police, the FBI and other law-enforcement officials, as well as two or three sets of criminals, as the truth of what is going on shifts with each new discovery. This part of the book is exciting and fast-paced, as Joe and Elvis work out the convoluted plot in parallel with bags of action and thrills. The reader has a big hint about what is going on, in the form of a prologue, so knows a bit more than Joe and Elvis, but even so there are enough twists that it is unlikely that he or she will work out everything before our heroes.
In The Sentry, Robert Crais has provided a readable and exciting addition to his successful series. Perhaps the weakest aspect of the novel is the coincidence at the start, in which Joe stumbles across the complex case, as well as the slightly clunky plot device of him falling for Dru. But as a detective story, and an account of two mens’ friendship, strengths and vulnerabilities, the book is an absorbing read. Despite quite a few violent aspects (briskly dealt with), I’d say this novel is a light read.
The first few volumes of Robert Crais’s series are classic, Chandler-esque PI novels about Elvis, with Joe a minor character, as his enforcer. Later, Joe features in a couple of his own novels, which are thrillers more than detective stories. Here, in The Sentry, Joe and Elvis have a more equal relationship in that they split the investigation between them, and both of them have to use their deductive powers. For me, this gradual uncovering of what is at the root of a deceptively simple case by leads and reasoning, works better than Joe’s more usual persona as a bit of a superman, so I hope it is a trend that is set to continue.
I thank Ben of Material Witness for so kindly sending me a proof copy of this novel. His review of it is at Material Witness.