Law of averages says that at some point Robert Crais is going to write a bad book. TAKEN is not it.
What this is, is the book I've been waiting for ever since Joe Pike started getting his own name on the dust jackets. This is the book where Elvis and Joe share equal billing, where the strengths of each man, and the depths of their friendship, are demonstrated to the fullest. And the icing on the cake? The reader gets to know more about the fascinating and entertaining Jon Stone character than has been revealed in previous books.
Crais's talent for characterization and setting is used to optimal effect, supported by white-hot pacing. The constant tension is spurred by the construction of the book, sliding back and forth in time, allowing the reader to anticipate some, but not too much, of the action while allowing the author enough space to surprise the reader with the twists and turns of the story. Rarely is such construction both necessary and highly effective, but Crais is the master of the time shift (remember LA REQUIEM?), wielding the tool with wisdom and restraint.
But it is the characters: Cole, Pike, Stone, the pollos and the bajadores themselves, who draw the reader in and refuse to let go until their story is resolved: Cole, who goes a little too far trying to help a client. Pike, well, how far won't Pike go for a friend? Stone, a brilliant and loud character who goes as far as he damn well pleases, and who is just begging to get his own name on a dust jacket. The pollos, those victims who risk all for a chance at a better life and those who are trying to escape the consequences of their own deeds. The bajadores, those who are just hired help, those who don't even see their victims as people, and those who positively relish the nastier aspects of their work.
TAKEN has its share of metaphors and symbols, but Crais writes in such an "of the moment" style, that such niceties tend to be camouflaged by the story's action. It lends to his books a subtlety missing in much of today's crime fiction. For example, a killing ground is not made horrific to the reader through graphic detail; it becomes horrific when such a scene can make a character as tough as Jon Stone cry out in rage. Or when the mother of the missing woman gives Cole a tiny figure of Jiminy Cricket, the reader understands what that figure represents to each of them: she is putting everything in life she values in Elvis's hands, and for Elvis, the little plastic figure that was Pinocchio's conscience is, in essence, his own conscience. Elvis has always wanted to be a real boy, hasn't he?
I have to say that I've enjoyed all of Robert Crais's novels, but TAKEN is, for me, the most deeply satisfying book since 2005's THE FORGOTTEN MAN. Thematically, Crais sums up the book with an apt pair of epigraphs right at the beginning:
Our name is love."
-- Tattooed Beach Sluts
Jiminy Cricket: Hey, where ya goin'?
Pinocchio: I'm going to find him!
If you're wondering, then yes, you can read this book without having read the others in the series. TAKEN stands all on its own as an outstanding example of the action thriller. But it's only fair to say that the best way to experience the deeper richness of these characters is by learning more of Elvis's and Joe's history, so I urge you to read the entire series.