Picks and Pans Review: Lullaby Town
He's a walking handbook of pop culture, right down to his name: Elvis Cole. ("Christ," mutters the guard at Paramount studios, "I remember a time you said 'Elvis,' there was only one.") A Pinocchio clock decorates his office wall, a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt his chest. But the freshest face among fictional private eyes of course hides behind a sarcastic aside.
Like Robert Parker's Spenser, Crais's Elvis comes with a high cholesterol count and a mysterious "associate," in this case gun-shop owner Joe Pike. And like any detective worth his uncollected fee, Elvis—star of two previous mysteries, The Monkey's Raincoat and Stalking the Angel—is always getting fired. In Lullaby Town, he is retained by the infantile billionaire movie director Peter Alan Nelsen, who suffers a sudden, belated urge to play papa. Trouble is, his wife and kid disappeared a decade ago.
Finding them is easy—as Elvis, never one to mystify his work, points out: "People don't usually change their names and move to the Amazon.... people own cars and driver's licenses and social security numbers." But once found, Karen Nelsen, now Karen "Lloyd" Shipley, is in more than a bathtub full of hot water. A Connecticut bank officer, she has for years been quietly transferring money for the mob.
Elvis's attempt to rescue Karen and her son, Toby, leads him to some extremely seedy New York City nightspots and to another great Crais character: retired NYC police detective Rollie George, now a best-selling crime novelist. Crais deserves a comparable success. His Cole is lean, mean and completely lovable—a worthy successor to Spenser and Fletch. (Bantam, $20)