By Phyllis Seesengood
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Robert Crais has been one of my favorite authors for years. Because I am a huge fan of the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, I was anxious to begin reading "Suspect."
I hadn't read anything about the novel beforehand, so I didn't realize it wasn't part of that series. I quickly got over that disappointment as I continued with the novel.
The story begins in Afghanistan, where a suicide bomber kills Pete, a soldier and the handler of Maggie, a 3-year-old German shepherd specially trained to sniff out explosives. When a sniper shoots Maggie, her career as a military dog ends, as does her tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The story picks up several months later with Los Angeles police officer Scott James. Months have passed since Scott's partner, Stephanie, was killed in a brutal nighttime shooting that left Scott critically injured. He continues to suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and pain from injuries sustained in the shooting. Scott sees a psychiatrist in hopes that his flashbacks will reveal clues about the people responsible for the crime.
Scott joins the LAPD canine department, where he is paired with Maggie, who also suffers from PTSD and depression. Scott and Maggie are both considered too physically and psychologically damaged to be in law enforcement, but Scott is determined to find Stephanie's killers and refuses to give up his search.
Scott has no experience with dogs, but as he and Maggie work together, the two form a strong bond, just as Pete and Maggie had shared a close bond in Afghanistan. Scott and Maggie become a pack, with Scott being the alpha.
Scott, aided by police detective Joyce Cowly, investigates the crime that led to Stephanie's death. The crime unit assigned to the case has made little progress in solving the case, but the help he receives from other members of the unit has unexpected results that lead to deadly consequences.
Robert Crais is a master with character development and character relationships. The focus of the novel is the relationship that develops between Scott and Maggie as both recently lost their partners and need each other to heal.
Other characters central to the novel are Joyce Cowly, the detective who befriends Scott and helps him find the killer. Sergeant Dominick Leland is the "dog man," an expert in the handler/dog relationship who is quite vocal regarding the importance of the work of police dogs.
The author tells parts of the story from Maggie's perspective in a way that is unusually compelling and fascinating. He creates a truly unique and caring character in Maggie, but she still comes across as a dog, not a human character.
Crais explains in detail how a dog uses its extremely sensitive nose to distinguish different smells. It is easy to tell that the author has done tons of research on dog behavior and psychology, particularly on military and police dogs.
When I started the novel and discovered that a dog was one of the two main characters, I was hesitant to continue the story. I usually don't read novels about animals, especially dogs, since so many of these books end sadly. However, this book is different.
"Suspect" is an excellent novel by Robert Crais, especially if you are a dog lover -- and even if you are not. It is my favorite so far, and I hope to see more of Maggie and Scott and the other characters in future novels.
In the audiobook version, MacLeod Andrews delivers an excellent narration, giving each character a unique voice.
The novel is available at the Joplin Public Library in regular print, large print and audiobook formats.
Phyllis Seesengood is technical services librarian for the Joplin Public Library.