I’m going to start this review by stating that I am a HUGE Robert Crais fan. From story to setting, from character to conflict, for me he’s the epitome of a storyteller. When you pick up any of his books, you’re immediately pulled in within the very first few pages (often paragraphs) and you instantly know you’re in very capable storytelling hands — and that you’re going to be in for one helluva ride.
As a writer, I know what it’s like to stare at a blank page. I understand very well what it’s like to create something out of nothing. To have a kernel of an idea, a simmering image of a story or a person or a theme, that — with love and hope and a lot of tears and sweat and blood — will spark into a full-fledged, full-length novel that will grab readers and leave them desperate for more when they reach The End.
I also know how very, very hard this is to do. And that you can’t always hit one out of the park.
So…yeah. Let’s talk about The Promise.
When I grow up, I want to be Robert Crais. Okay, my version of him, but you get what I mean. And I still feel that way after reading The Promise, but I gotta admit that for the first time ever, since I started reading Crais, I feel like I’ve discovered Oz hiding behind the curtain.
The Promise is a typical Crais–Elvis Cole–Joe Pike book. Sort of. Typical in its crime setting and mystery. Typical in its page-turning suspense. Typical in how it depicts its characters in very real terms, including his newest character Maggie, a K-9 German shepherd. In this book, Elvis is tasked with finding a grief-stricken mother, which sounds simple enough but, as we all know, simple things always become bigger things when Crais writes them. What starts as a look-see by Elvis Cole into a very ordinary house becomes a deadly search for a killer and fugitive, as well as a peek into the dark side of terrorism — but with a kick-ass twist.
However, something fell a bit short in this book. Maybe it was my mindset at the time when I read it, or maybe it was something else, but the feel and tone of The Promise was…I dunno…off. If I remember correctly, the original publication date on this novel was pushed back by months, which got me thinking of possible reasons why. But without the facts, I can only speculate why that occurred. I can only say that Crais had reached impeccably high standards over the years and this time that standard didn’t surface as I’d expected. Though focused and with a strong through line, The Promise had lots of characters along with lots of movement and sidebars that, at times, became challenging to follow as a reader. Elvis wasn’t his usual fun and occasionally snarky self, and Pike barely had any page time to speak of. My sense was that perhaps Crais was testing the waters with Maggie and her K-9 handler Scott James, which is okay. But still, the grab-you, roller-coaster ride I was expecting wasn’t there. The personality, the richness in storytelling, the thing that makes Crais Crais, wasn’t there.
Am I saying The Promise is a bad book? Not at all. In fact, a bad book for Crais (if you can even call it that) is still a pretty damned good book compared to a lot of other published novels. But given my reading history with Crais, and the exacting and uber-high standards he’s set, and the almost superhuman-like qualities he offers in his storytelling, this one pales in comparison. It felt like a stepping stone, maybe to a new series or a new cast of characters. Different, and not what I’d expected.
I can only blame Crais for this, and in a well-deserved way. It’s only because he is that damned good, that A+, that this novel gets dinged. Because of that, I’m willing to give him a pass — and maybe even re-read The Promise again in the future to see if my opinion changes.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t bypass reading The Promise. If it’s on your TBR pile, go for it. However, I wouldn’t make it my first Crais stop. Read the other novels in his series, preferably in order if you can. If you haven’t done so yet, you’re seriously missing out. If you have, I’d love to compare notes on The Promise. There’s a reason Crais is my writing idol, and still is. Only now, I’ve discovered what’s behind that curtain. And — gasp! — Crais really is human after all. 🙂
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