Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Robert Crais

HIS ELVIS SINGS SADLY

HAVING GROWN UP 40 MINUTES AWAY from Tupelo, Miss., Elvis Presley's birthplace, Robert Crais had no trouble naming his detective. "Elvis embodied a lot of the things a classic private eye embodies," he explains. "He was an outsider, but not a man without values. He went into the service when drafted. When he made millions, he still said, 'Yes, ma'am.' There was that Southern-boy adherence to form that is like Raymond Chandler adhering to his code.

"Elvis Cole is my fantasy self," adds Crais. "He's the me that cries out at injustice." The cries are loud in Free Fall, especially regarding L.A., the Louisiana native's home since 1976. "I wanted to set something in South Central L.A., but once we had the riot over Rodney King, everything changed for me—the whole tone and tenor of what I wanted to say," says Crais. "I had been down to South Central just two weeks before. I found it very different from the place the media conveys—yes, there were bad things, but there were also nice streets, immaculate houses and friendly people who were willing to talk to me. With the riots, we were swept away by the ugliness. But I wanted the goodness that I found down there represented also. Crais, 40, lives in Sherman Oaks with his wife, Patricia, a psychotherapist, and their 12-year-old daughter, Lauren. Though he has written for TV (L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues among others), he views that craft without the standard cynicism: "Television is collaborative, a book is more personal. But I think of my occupation as just: writer."

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