Skip to main content

Crais fans 'Taken' on thrilling ride in new novel

By Christian DuChateau, CNN
January 27, 2012 -- Updated 1955 GMT (0355 HKT)
Robert Crais gives private detectives Elvis Cole and Joe Pike a new kind of crime to solve in
Robert Crais gives private detectives Elvis Cole and Joe Pike a new kind of crime to solve in "Taken."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Robert Crais returns to private detective duo Elvis Cole and Joe Pike in "Taken"
  • The characters have appeared in Crais' crime novels since 1987
  • "Taken" is intense and reads like a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster

(CNN) -- We should all be so lucky to have friends like Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Private detectives in modern-day Los Angeles, they're the stars of best-selling author Robert Crais' award-winning series of crime novels. Elvis and Joe have been busting bad guys and thrilling millions of readers since 1987's "The Monkey's Raincoat." The books are international bestsellers, published in 42 countries, and have developed a fervent following.

In "Taken," Crais's newest novel, his 15th featuring the daring duo, Elvis and Joe take on an especially bloodthirsty group of criminals called bajadores. They are bandits who prey on other bandits along the U.S.-Mexico border, dealing in drugs, murder and kidnapping.

"Taken" is intense and fast-paced and reads like a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Though that's not surprising when you consider Crais began his career writing for television series like "Hill Street Blues," "Cagney & Lacey" and "Miami Vice."

CNN recently spoke to the author about his new book, his loyal fans and why he's refused to bring Elvis and Joe to the big screen. The following is an edited transcript.

CNN: How has writing about Elvis Cole and Joe Pike changed over the course of the series?

Crais: I really strive to bring something new to each book. I don't want to write the same book over and over again. I've done Elvis books; I've done Joe books; I've done mixed books, but this time, I made a conscious decision I wanted to tell a story where I could split the book pretty much down the middle and give them 50-50 equal footing so they both have their starring roles. When I discovered this particular story, it just seemed a perfect way to do that. Part of the book, they're working together. Then there's Elvis' track through the story, and there's Joe track, where he's trying to find Elvis and save him. So it just seemed like an ideal way to let these guys share the stage.

CNN: In "Taken," the story jumps between several points of view and moves back and forth in time. How difficult was it to put together?

Crais: It was like a crazy puzzle that kept changing. You should have seen my office. I have these huge black foam boards on the wall, and tacked to them, I have these white punch cards with my story ideas, scenes and notes. I kept juggling these cards and amending them, making little scrawls on them. Notions came to me, things changed, and I literally shuffled them around like a deck of cards, trying to bring them all into focus so the events were as exciting as I could make them.

CNN: How do you start a novel? What comes first, an idea, an image, a scene?

Crais: It could be any of the above, but it's usually an image, almost always driven by a character moment. In "Taken," it was the notion of Krista Morales and her hunger to know more about her mother's experience that night in the desert. I just saw her. It was literally my first image in the book. I saw her staring out into the black desert sky with this open-eyed wonder, trying to see the path her mother took to get to this country. All I had was her face in the moonlight, staring out there, and I just knew whatever she's looking for, I want to find. That was the engine that really kicked off the rest of the book.

CNN: "Taken" revolves around a kidnapping on the U.S.-Mexico border by bajadores. What prompted you to write about these bandits?

Crais: I had heard about these atrocious mass graves uncovered in Mexico south of the border: 52 people in one grave, 87 people in another, 164 bodies at a ranch with multiple burial sites. If you watch the news at all, you know Mexico is pretty much defining itself now as a war between the government and the various drug cartels. South of the border is fairly well-patrolled by armed groups of thugs who work for the cartels, and those guys end up preying on civilians, policemen and government officials, but they also prey on each other.

I found out most of the people who were found in those mass graves were immigrants who were headed North from as far away as Central America. They were trying to get to the U.S., and somewhere along the way, cartel bandits or "bajadores" would kidnap them, rob them, force them to call their families or employers or whoever and try to extort additional money out of them. When there was no more money to be had, they would just be murdered and buried in mass graves. The business was literally stealing people. The nature of this victim was very moving to me.

When you consider that the victim is basically an innocent, penniless person who's just trying to find a way to make his or her life better was super appealing to me, and it seemed like the type of people that Elvis and Joe would sympathize with and risk their lives to try and save.

CNN: While there's lots of action in your books, it seems like the friendship between Elvis and Joe is what keeps readers coming back.

Crais: Sure. The books are about Elvis and Joe. The books are about their friendship and who they are as men and human beings. I think that's why the readership has grown the way it has and why readers keep coming back to them. There's a value to their friendship that I think people admire and envy and want in their own lives. I know I do, so I kind of attribute it to other people, too. I would love to have either Elvis or Joe, preferably both, as my friends. They're certainly interesting guys, and we can live vicariously through them for their adventures, but there's something beautiful about these two guys and about having someone so trustworthy and dependable in your life. It's very comforting, I think.

CNN: Has the success of the series surpassed your expectations?

Crais: I'm certainly thrilled by the reaction. Honestly, I never would have thought the characters would have become as popular as they have. In the beginning, my dream was simply to make a living at it. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to earn a living, but it never occurred to me that the books would become bestsellers. I mean, I'm glad, but none of this was by design. I wrote these guys because they're guys I wanted to spend time with.

Writing a book is a long and difficult process for me. I'm a slow writer, so I spend the year with Elvis Cole and Joe Pike in my head. I was thinking about this the other day. I wrote the first book in 1987. Literally every day since that time, Elvis and Joe have been in my head. They're always there. I started these guys because I like them. I still like spending time with them, and I think that's probably the reason the readers have embraced Elvis and Joe the way they have. Whenever there's a new book, they want to refresh that friendship.

CNN: Despite many lucrative offers, you've never sold the screen rights to Elvis and Joe. Why is that?

Crais: It's pretty simple. You know the old saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it? I'm concerned that if there's a film of Elvis and Joe, that somehow it will interfere with the collaboration I have with my readers. I'm the first to admit this is probably a knuckleheaded fear on my part, but I have it nevertheless. Books are a collaborative art. Elvis and Joe don't exist until someone picks up one of the books and reads it. In the act of reading, you and I collaborate, and Elvis and Joe come to life inside your head.

What I've learned over time is that the Elvis and Joe you see and hear in your head, they are only yours. There might be however many hundreds of thousands of other people who've read "Taken," and each and every one of them is going to have a unique Elvis and Joe. It's going to be a little bit different from everybody else's because we all bring our own stuff to this. I find that wonderful.

To me, that is the great thing about books, and I guess part of me is a little scared that if I let Hollywood get involved, and even if there's a really good movie made, that somehow once you've seen the film, when you come back to the new book next year, that collaboration that you and I have is going to be a little bit different. Because then, the movie is going to have inserted itself. So I'm really jealous and guarded about that. I want your Elvis and Joe to be a product of yours and mine and nothing else.

Read an excerpt from "Taken" and find out more about Robert Crais on his website.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Catching up with authors
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Author Tim Federle has just wrapped a long day at the Atlanta Junior Theater festival, working with several thousand boys and girls who dream of stardom on the Broadway stage. Count these kids as lucky; they've found the perfect mentor.
January 21, 2013 -- Updated 1433 GMT (2233 HKT)
There's good and bad news regarding Robert Crais' new novel, "Suspect." First, the bad: There's no sign of uber-popular, crime-fighting duo, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Now the good: There is a dog.
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1705 GMT (0105 HKT)
In "The Hot Country," U.S. troops invade a foreign country where oil interests are at stake, a rising foreign power is looking to derail U.S. forces using cloak and dagger tactics, and there's a gunfight in the desert against insurgent enemies.
January 11, 2013 -- Updated 1651 GMT (0051 HKT)
This week super fans from around the world are gathering in New York to celebrate the 159th birthday of the legendary consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.
October 15, 2012 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
In "The Twelve" it's the end of the world as we know it and while no one feels fine, millions love reading about it.
September 8, 2012 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Fans of crime fiction know the names Connelly and Koryta well. Two Mikes. Two generations. Two masters of their craft.
July 24, 2012 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
"Sorry Please Thank You" is his new collection of mind-bending, moving and sometimes melancholy stories.
July 17, 2012 -- Updated 1531 GMT (2331 HKT)
Crime fiction fans know the name Parker, a single-named anti-hero of the 1960s. As a character, he's a career criminal, hired gun and professional thief, a pulp-fiction prince of America's seedy underworld.
June 29, 2012 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
Werewolves are usually the stuff of B-movies and bad novels, but last year British author Glen Duncan did the unthinkable in literary circles, crafting a howling good tale out of the weary werewolf myth.
June 19, 2012 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Best-selling author Alan Furst has made a career of capturing the classic cloak-and-dagger days leading up to World War II, bringing the era to life like a literary version of "Casablanca."
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
The night before he turned 40, Rich Roll had what he calls a "moment of clarity." Overweight and out of shape, Roll had to stop to catch his breath while walking up the stairs of his Southern California home. Roll, now a father of four, feared he was close to a heart attack.
June 1, 2012 -- Updated 1714 GMT (0114 HKT)
Craig Johnson looks like he could have stepped out of the pages of one of his own best-selling Western novels. With the late-day sun behind him, he could even pass for his fictional hero, Sheriff Walt Longmire.
May 11, 2012 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
jfap
It's one of our simplest yet most enduring inventions. While the games have evolved, the ball in all its various forms continues to play a key role in different cultures around the world.
May 4, 2012 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
mcac
Former O.J. Simpson trial prosecturo Marcia Clark became a household name as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Clark is still mining her past, only now as a successful crime novelist.
April 27, 2012 -- Updated 1202 GMT (2002 HKT)
wbc
"Waiting for Sunrise," the new novel from acclaimed British author William Boyd, is an evocative mix of sex, spies and psychoanalysis.
April 13, 2012 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
stc
Bookshelves are bursting with a bevy of great new titles this spring but we wanted to highlight a trio of new thrillers that truly bring history to life.
April 3, 2012 -- Updated 1131 GMT (1931 HKT)
ecbc
Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known person born in a North Korean prison camp that escaped and survived to tell the tale.
March 23, 2012 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
jpc
James Patterson may be the top-selling writer in the world; he might very well be the busiest, too. Patterson has three books near the top of the bestseller lists right now.
March 16, 2012 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
sc
Muffled gun shots and squealing tires. A secret midnight meeting in a dark alley. Everyone recognizes the classic elements of a good cloak and dagger story.
March 9, 2012 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
mbc
History, from ancient Greece to hopscotching across time, plays a prominent role in March's best books.
March 6, 2012 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
ebc
Imagine a smoke-filled jazz club, dark and crowded. The sounds of a trumpet solo echo on stage, while a piano, bass and drums pound out a finger-snapping groove.
February 10, 2012 -- Updated 2050 GMT (0450 HKT)
sbc
P.G. Sturges, son of famous director Preston Sturges, writes classic noir novels, like "The Shortcut Man."
January 27, 2012 -- Updated 1955 GMT (0355 HKT)
rcci
We should all be so lucky to have friends like Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Private detectives in modern-day Los Angeles, they're the stars of best-selling author Robert Crais' award-winning series of crime novels.
January 20, 2012 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
elac
Elmore Leonard is something of a living legend among lovers of crime fiction. A favorite of millions of readers, a hero to scores of writers, he's been called "America's greatest crime writer."
ADVERTISEMENT