Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
For many years, Robert Crais has been a consistently top quality exponent of crime fiction, one of those ‘go to’ writers for legions of fans around the world. The former Hollywood screenwriter’s hugely popular Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series mixes gripping plotlines with intriguing characters, with the main characters and their interpersonal relationships evolving over the course of the series.
In recent years, however, Crais’s novels have started to feature more and more of the enigmatic, action-orientated Pike, and less of the wisecracking, layered Cole. The lead and supporting roles have often been switched, with private eye Cole playing back-up to Pike, rather than vice versa. TAKEN provides a new twist, with the pair separated and alternating as the main player in a storyline about human trafficking told from multiple viewpoints.
Businesswoman Nita Morales wants Cole – “the World’s Greatest Detective” - to find her wayward daughter Krista, a college student who disappears after a weekend away with her boyfriend Jack. Unbeknownst to Nita, Krista had taken Jack out into the desert to see the wreck of an old plane, which had ties to her own family history, and the pair had crossed paths with a dangerous group who bring illegal immigrants across the border. A dangerous scheme for all involved, filled with uncertainty, disappearances, and violence. When Nita receives a tiny ransom demand from the ‘kidnappers’, she suspects Krista and the untrustworthy Jack might be behind the whole thing, and are just setting her up.
But as Cole digs further, he uncovers something far more sinister, and finds himself entwined with drug cartels, Asian gangs, and much worse. A plan to infiltrate a human trafficking ring tied to a Korean gang and a Syrian mastermind backfires badly, and Cole ends up ‘taken’ himself. It’s up to Pike, and effervescent mercenary Jon Stone, to navigate the murky underground world of human trafficking to find their friend, Krista, and Jack, and the clock is ticking. Fast.
Crais is deservedly a favourite of many crime fans, but I found the constant chopping in time and perspective in TAKEN more distracting than tension-building. There is some of the snappy repartee, and plenty of the action, that fans have come to love from the series, but I found myself less engaged than usual. The storyline, while exciting at times, seems thin and unfolds rather predictably and in a somewhat linear fashion overall (despite the switches in time and perspective in the multiple narratives). TAKEN is far more ‘breezy airport thriller’ than Crais’s usual standards – and compares unfavourably to its immediate predecessor, the previous Pike-centric THE SENTRY, which combined increased action with depth of story and character. In contrast, I almost got the feeling that Crais rushed TAKEN to print; it just feels like there were some really terrific pieces there, but it hasn’t really come together. Less than the sum of its parts.
Having said that, there is still something to enjoy in TAKEN. The terrifying realities of human trafficking are nicely explored, and Jon Stone steals the show in several scenes. Diehard fans of Crais may still be relatively pleased – as they would with any new instalment – but those being truthful will admit that it’s one of the master’s lesser efforts. I’m still a fan, but for me personally TAKEN is an okay, not great, crime novel from an author who usually sets the bar much higher.
Further reading and reviews about Crais and/or TAKEN:
- "A city perfect for dreamers and killers" - NZHerald feature article
- 9mm interview with Robert Crais
- Author website
- Kirkus Reviews take on TAKEN (similar to mine)
- Jen Forbus reviews TAKEN at Jen's Book Thoughts (more glowing review)
- Maxine reviews TAKEN at Petrona
Have you read TAKEN? What did you think? Have I missed the boat on this one, and it really is a great thriller? Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and criticisms...