The Wanted

By Robert Crais

Putnam. 336 pp. $28

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Reviewed by Oline H. Cogdill

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After a three-year hiatus, Robert Crais makes a triumphant return to his longtime hero, Los Angeles private investigator Elvis Cole, in the taut, inventive The Wanted.

Crais' 17th novel seamlessly glides back into the rhythm of Elvis, and, of course, his enigmatic sidekick Joe Pike, with a timely tale about disaffected teenagers, materialistic values, and devastating secrets.

Elvis is hired by single mother Devin Connor, who is worried that her teenage son, Tyson, may be dealing drugs. Suffering from anxiety issues, Tyson has been expelled from two schools because of chronic lateness and failing grades. But since enrolling in an alternative school, Tyson has been sporting expensive clothes, and Devin recently found a $40,000 Rolex and bundles of thousands of dollars hidden in his bedroom.

The good news, as Elvis discovers, is Tyson is not into drugs. The bad news is he is part of a trio of teens who have burglarized 18 expensive homes in exclusive enclaves. The teens are after the thrill of hauling away anything they can carry - jewelry, cash, electronics. But one laptop they take contains some sensitive files that puts hit men Harvey and Stemms on their trail. Now Elvis isn't just trying to find out what Tyson is up to; he's also trying to save the young man's life. That won't be easy, because Tyson, along with his friends Alec and Amber, has disappeared.

Crais skillfully moves The Wanted through a labyrinth of believable twists and turns. Elvis has been very much missed by readers, and The Wanted delves deeper into his personality, as well as showing that even Elvis is capable of maturing. Well, somewhat.

Crais wisely keeps Pike out of the story until halfway through, so that when he does show up, his presence in the plot is even stronger. Crais' affinity for solid villains again shines in Harvey and Stemms and in their Tarantino-esque banter and sincere mutual affection.

One of Crais' achievements here is how profoundly he delves into the persona of three drifting but very different teenagers. These are teens who have seen too much TV, played too many games, and are not sure what reality really is. Burglaries, hit men, and stolen secrets may be fodder for movies, but these teens can't tell the difference between what is real and what is a story.

Welcome back, Elvis.

This review originally appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.