The Watchman by Robert Crais is his greatest edge-of-your-seat thriller to date. P.I. Elvis Cole usually takes center stage in Crais’s books; this time, his partner in the Elvis Cole Detective Agency, Joe Pike, is the main character in an engrossing, page-turning tale of real estate heiresses, drug cartels, money laundering and murder. When Jon Stone, a man to whom ex-cop and ex-mercenary Joe Pike owes a favor, hits Pike up to serve as a bodyguard for the rich, beautiful daughter of a hotel and real estate tycoon, he takes the job even though it’s a freebie.
Larkin Barkley collided with a Mercedes on her way home early one morning and saw a man stagger away from the accident before the car, owned by the real estate magnate King family, drove away. She wrote down the license plate number, called 911, and
identified the passenger who got out of the Mercedes as someone laundering money for an Ecuadorian drug cartel. Set to testify in court, identify the man and send him to jail, she is targeted for assassination. This is when Bud Flynn, Pike’s old partner on the police force, suggests that he would be perfect for the job of keeping Larkin alive.
Even being guarded at safe houses by U.S. Marshals cannot guarantee Larkin’s safety. The people out to assassinate or kidnap her are very persistent and have more than a hundred million reasons in cold hard cash to stay hot on her trail. Joe Pike, a man of action and few words, must stay alive and hunt down the man he believes to be behind the money laundering for the Ecuadorian drug cartel: Alex Meesh. Pike sums up the situation succinctly: “When you weren’t moving you were nothing but someone’s target.” He doesn’t know whom he can trust, or if even Pitman, a member of Homeland Security, might be the person leaking Larkin’s location to Meesh. Eventually, Larkin realizes that Pike isn’t going to just protect her; he intends to track down whomever is after her. She tells him
“You don’t want to hide; you want to get them before they get us. That’s why you want their pictures. You’re going to hunt them down.”
One major theme in The Watchman has to do with “staying groovy.” No, not the 1970's meaning of “cool” or “laid back” or doing drugs. Crais’ interpretation of the expression helps to define Joe Pike’s character:
It was an expression used by small recon units and sniper teams in hostile terrain. They would tell one another to stay groovy when the danger level was so insanely high they popped amphetamines to stay awake and ready to rock twenty-four/ seven, because anything less would get them all killed. Stay groovy; take your pill. Stay groovy; safety off, finger on. Stay groovy; welcome to hell.
Extremely suspenseful, The Watchman will keep you reading late into the night to finish it. Though Pike is the major character of the book, have no fear, Elvis Cole fans: he plays an important role in this novel. Pike is a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails dude who packs a Colt Python and a Kimber as his guns of choice and a Randal and SOG for his knives as back-up protection. Not that a man who has earned five black belts (in tae kwon do, kung fu, wing chun, judo, and ubawazi) and is an expert in dim mak (the Chinese “death touch”) would need them. The body count mounts along with the suspense in one of the finest books I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long time.
Robert Crais has a cool way of formulating phrases, like when Cole assures his friend Pike that Alex Meesh must be worried about the fact that the people he sends out to get Larkin have a nasty habit of turning up dead: “You’ve killed seven of his people. He’s slugging Maalox.” The writing style combined with the great character development and suspenseful plot make The Watchman shine like a jewel amid the metaphorical gravel heap of other books in this genre.
I kept imagining, as I read, about casting for the movie that could be adapted from The Watchman. Paris Hilton would be perfect as Larkin Barkley; the part seems to have been written for someone like her. Larkin even has a small dog, and appears to be shallow on the surface - an act put on to hide their real self. Bruce Willis would make a great Pike. I highly recommend this book to anyone into action-packed novels. The Watchman has a chance to sell even more books than previous Crais novels Crais such as The Forgotten Man and The Two Minute Rule.