THE FIRST RULE by Robert Crais

Book Quote:

“Before he dressed, he looked at himself in the mirror. Pike was six foot one. He weighed two hundred five pounds. He had been shot seven times, hit by shrapnel on fourteen separate occasions, and stabbed or cut eleven times. Scars from the wounds and resulting surgeries mapped his body like roads that always came back to the same place.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (FEB 20, 2010)

I’ve been a fan of Robert Crais for a long time and I’m especially partial to his character, Pike.  Pike first starred in the The Watchman, published in 2008.  He makes his appearance again in The First Rule, an edge-of-your-reading-seat thriller.  This new book by Crais has it all: murder, mayhem, hookers, dirty arms deals, mercenaries, the FBI, the LAPD and the Serbian Mafia.  The novel starts with the cold blooded murder of Frank Meyer, his wife and children, and his nanny.  Frank and Pike are old friends from Pike’s mercenary days and Pike decides to solve the crime and bring the murderers to justice – his style of justice.

Pike is not your ordinary enforcer.  He was once a professional mercenary and later worked for the LAPD.  After leaving the force, he set up shop with private eye, Elvis Cole.  Preconceptions about private eyes just don’t fit Pike.  He’s a loner, living alone with blank walls in his apartment.  He’s into jogging, working out, and yoga. “Pike changed into his workout gear, stretched to warm himself, then eased into the meditative state he always found through yoga. He moved slowly, and with great regard, working deeply through asanas from hatha yoga.  He breathed, and felt himself settle. His heart rate slowed. Forty-two beats per minute. His blood pressure, one hundred over sixty. Peace came with certainty. Pike was certain.”  Pike is autonomous and self sufficient, rarely asking for help.  When he does need help, he calls on his friend Elvis Cole.  Elvis can’t remember how many times Pike has saved his life “but he could count on one hand the times Joe Pike had asked for help.”  Joe “was so used to moving quietly he no longer touched the earth.”

Before the reader starts thinking of Joe Pike as saintly and otherworldly, some New Age type, it would be appropriate to know that he can kill more quickly than a feral animal, has the strength of many, and has no qualms about using his power for justice. He loves silence and can wait silently for his prey for days. An average man’s head can fit into his hand and with one twist of the neck, that man will no longer be living. Joe Pike is lethal. He is a trained professional mercenary who practices his skills and uses them to avenge others. So, when his friend Frank Meyer is killed, Joe goes after his killers.

Elvis Cole is good at finding people and this is the help that Pike needs. They find out there have been six other murders in the same style, families killed in cold blood by a professional home invasion crew. The other five cases involved someone in the family who was dirty, involved in crime in some way. Joe doesn’t believe that Frank is dirty. Frank left the mercenary life to settle down with his wife and children. He built a business from scratch and worked hard for all he had. Joe finds out that one of the murderers is Serbian. The nanny is Serbian so Joe decides to investigate her and see if she is the reason that Frank and his family were killed.

Ana, the nanny, comes out clean. She’s a good girl who’s been supported by her sister Rina, a prostitute connected to the Serbian Mafia. Pike gets a hold of Rina and finds out some startling revelations that make the crime start to make sense. He gathers information about the Serbian Mafia and their dealings. They have their hands in prostitution, strip clubs, identification theft, credit card fraud, and stolen merchandise.

As Pike gets deeper and deeper into the investigation and the workings of the Serbian Mafia, he finds out that “secrecy is everything.”  Sometimes, members of the mob “may not even know each other.” He learns about the mafia rules, and “the first rule – rule number one – is that their families don’t matter. Mom, dad, the brother, sis – those people do not matter. They are not supposed to have wives or children. It’s actually written like that.” They are people who would kill their own family members without blinking an eye. Pike knows a lot about rules as he has rules of his own. His rules are about honor, revenge and accountability.

The people involved in the case have interesting personal dynamics. Of particular interest, is Pike’s relationship with Rina. He is intrigued by her and with the direct and honest way she talks about being a hooker. Pike surprises her coming out of the shower and notices “that corded pink scars crisscrossed her belly as if she had been clawed. The scars were so deep they puckered…  These weren’t surgical scars. Someone had wanted to hurt her, and had likely been trying to kill her. Pike wondered who and why, and how long ago it had happened. She had been cut deep, and the cuts had hurt. Pike liked it that she wasn’t self-conscious about the scars.” Pike also has an ambiguous and ambivalent relationship with Kelly Walsh, the female detective from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Kelly “had an angry slash for a mouth” and a cold, distant personality. She is not helpful to Pike in his investigations.

This is a great page-turner. I had the misfortune of starting it late in the afternoon and was still reading as the sun came up the next morning. Despite nodding off from time to time, I could not put the book down. It is that compelling. If you’re a fan of Crais, you’ll love this book. If you’ve never read Crais before, this is a good place to start. It shows off his literary bent and his ability to hook the reader. His character development is such that the reader gets to really know the protagonists. His descriptions are wonderful and he peppers the book with funny one-liners that add comic relief. If you’re a fan of murder mysteries and thrillers, they don’t get much better than Crais, here, at his best.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 133 readers
PUBLISHER: Putnam Adult; First Edition (January 12, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Watchman

Chasing Darkness

The Forgotten Man

The Last Detective


Elvis Cole / Joe Pike series:

Joe Pike / Elvis Cole Series:


Movies from books:

February 20, 2010 · Judi Clark · 3 Comments
Posted in: California, Sleuths Series, Thriller/Spy/Caper, y Award Winning Author

3 Responses

  1. eli.b.ativa - March 4, 2010

    I am surprised the reviewer made no mention whatsoever of the baby Pike rescued in the story. The child is significant because Pike’s attachment to it directly contradicts the “first rule” of the mobsters.

    Significantly, Pike says to Cole: “Everyone needs somebody,” to which Cole replied: “Even you?” Yes, Crais is saying that even seemingly stoic, detached Pike needs somebody–like the rest of us who seek purpose in our lives.

    I have read all of Crais books and the earlier ones in the Cole/Pike series (as I recall them, having read them as each was published) really do not delve as deeply into the characters of Cole and Pike as the more recent books. Rather than principally the extremely resourceful and brave heros, both Cole and Pike’s vulnerabilities are more and more central aspects of the recent installments. There’s Cole’s deeply felt feelings about being a fatherless child and over losing Lucy Chenier, the woman he loved whom he lost because of the danger that surrounds him, the precise danger he is not afraid to confront in order to help others–his best qualities result in pain and loss. Then among unspoken things that cause Pike to wake up bathed in sweat, there’s his great selfless sacrifice of resigning from his beloved LAPD in order to preserve his partner’s pension benefits for his widow, which she would not have been entitled to had Pike not hid the fact of his suicide by claiming to have accidently shot and killed the fellow.

    Crais and his characters have been currently transporting heavy existential baggage and are not your standard shoot-em-up crime fiction.

  2. eli.b.ativa - March 6, 2010

    Allow me to more succinctly make the point I inartfully make above: in the more recent books of Crais’s Cole/Pike series, it is precisely the opposite of the mobster’s “First Rule” that both Cole and Pike seek. They yearn for the familial and relationship connections that the “First Rule” denies and forbids.

  3. brody - March 8, 2010

    Eli, Thank you for taking the time to comment. There was a lot to write about in this new Crais book and I decided not to mention the baby because it might be perceived as a spoiler. Pike is a very deep person with a unique set of values. His relationship to the baby is an important aspect of this novel. Bonnie

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