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The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel    by Robert Crais order for
by Robert Crais
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Serendipity - and her own wild habit of speeding through the city in the early hours of the morning - involves billionaire heiress Larkin Barkley in a car accident in which she sees something she shouldn't, something that sets relentless assassins on her trail. When federal agents fail to protect her, Jon Stone contacts Joe Pike, a former LAPD officer, marine, and mercenary, who owes him a debt. Stone was asked to get involved by Pike's old LAPD mentor ('the father he never had'), Bud Flynn, now a corporate investigator. Readers of Crais' Elvis Cole novels will remember Pike as the L.A. PI's taciturn partner (Cole shows up in this story as well, in a subsidiary role).

After three safe houses in succession prove killer magnets, and assassins' bodies pile up at an alarming rate, Pike decides to go dark with his young - and not particularly cooperative - federal witness in a case that turns out to involve money-laundering for a drug cartel. Of course, Pike wonders how they're being tracked down so quickly and easily - who amongst the few people in the know keeps betraying their location? He calls Elvis, who's still recovering from being shot thirteen weeks before. The banter amongst the trio is one of the book's highlights and brings out Larkin's best side. When she complains to Elvis that Pike doesn't say much, he replies, 'He's into telepathy. He can also walk through walls' (which in many ways sums up this quiet hero).

The spike-haired drama queen keeps poking verbally at the Pikester, who doesn't utter one more word than needed to get the job done. But he turns out to be surprisingly sensitive, as when he muses over his charge's edginess, 'This was a quiet time and the quiet times in combat were the worst ... in those moments when you had time to think, that's when you shook like a wet dog in the wind.' Pike tells Larkin he's not a bodyguard. Though now hunted, he morphs into the hunter and sets traps for the killers on their trail - with investigative assistance from Elvis, and from nerdy LAPD criminalist John Chen. They discover that the feds (Justice Department agents in particular) have been lying about what's really going on. Nothing is what it's seemed.

The heiress feels invisible to the father she loves, while Pike grew up trying to be invisible to the abusive parent he also loved - so he understands Larkin when she goes out on a limb for her dad to 'Make it right.' She tries to, but it's Pike who succeeds. The Watchman reveals quite a bit of Pike's backstory, a treat for Elvis Cole fans. Not having read these books, I missed references to earlier events but was still engrossed by this stomach churning thrill-ride from a master of suspense.

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