First Rule adds depth, context to Crais’ work
By Derryll White
Crais, Robert (2010). The First Rule.
You become responsible,
for what you have attained.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupry.
Most of the novels written by Robert Crais feature Elvis Cole, “the world’s greatest detective.” Joe Pike plays a supporting role in almost all of them. He is always present, strong and silent. The reader recognizes Joe Pike as Elvis’ alter ego, but doesn’t learn a great deal about the character.
‘The First Rule’ is different. Pike is featured here and Crais fills in the character blanks. I was shocked to learn that Pike is Caucasian. I have read a number of Elvis Cole novels over the last 30 years and always thought Joe Pike was black. Funny how imagination works.
Robert Crais focuses on the Eastern European gangs establishing themselves in Los Angeles and throughout America. He paints a scary picture of old world values – vendettas, cells within cells all devoted to stealing all they can. He makes the reader remember the huge atrocities of the Serbo-Croatian war.
This is a hard book – tough, violent and somehow stark. But throughout Joe Pike shows glimmers of humanity, a softness that only makes him that much harder. ‘The First Rule’ adds depth and context to the rest of Robert Crais’ work. I am glad I read it as I consider Robert Crais a very substantial figure in the mystery genre.
Excerpts from the novel:
JOE PIKE – Pike loved the night. Had since he was a boy, hiding in the woods from his raging father; loved it all the more as a young combat Marine on long-range patrols, then again when he was a police officer. Pike felt safe in the darkness. Hidden, and free.
SERBS — `You would have to be Serbian to understand. This is beyond war. The old man, he tells Michael he will kill the child himself. The old one will kill his own child to show he has no weakness, and cannot be threatened, and he will kill Michael.“
VAROVSKOY ZAKON — “Started with the Russian gangs back in the old Soviet Union, but it`s all through the East European gangs now.“
“What is it?”
“It translates as ‘Thieves in law.’ Vory v Zakone. What they call the thieves code. These people live by eighteen rules, Pike – actual written rules, kind of like a guidebook for assholes. The first rule – rule number one – is that their families don’t matter. They are not supposed to have wives or children. It’s actually written like that, Pike. I read it with my own eyes.”
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.