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Monday, October 13, 2008

Recommended Reading: "Chasing Darkness" by Robert Crais

Private-eye Elvis Cole returns for the 12th time in Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais. In this volume the detective, with his partner Joe Pike, investigate whether justice went awry on a case he worked on some years earlier. At that time, Cole was employed by criminal defense counsel to investigate a murder charge against Lionel Byrd. Cole found evidence that cleared Byrd of the charge.

Now, the Los Angeles police believe Byrd was a serial murderer; and that he caused two deaths after the previous charge was dropped. Cole and Pike leap into the action, tracking down old murder mysteries, examining new suspicious behavior, and fending off corruption and official obfuscation.

Chasing Darkness is well written, and Elvis Cole often has a touch of humor about him. The plot has some nice spikes in tension, and enough twists and turns to satisfy anyone looking to escape into a mystery.

A few small plot quibbles. First, Crais has his character devote significant time, money, and personal risk into an investigation that isn't supported by a paying client. This does not seem believable, but it can be ignored for the sake of a good story.

The second quibble is the author's incessant fixing of blame and guilt onto Byrd's defense team for the initial failed conviction. The police and the victim's family relentlessly blame the defense for "causing" subsequent murder; even Elvis Cole feels worried and guilty in the matter.

In a world where many people have at best a shaky understanding of how the criminal justice system works, this is so wrong to do. If the government wants to incarcerate someone, it is the government's responsibility to find sufficient proof to do so, the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. The absolute duty of the defense is to test the government's case because wrongful incarceration destroys the the life of the person convicted, and denies real justice to the victims. When so much of popular media, such as Fox News, distorts how the criminal justice system works, it would be helpful if someone with Mr. Crais' popularity presented the accurate picture.

These matters aside, Chasing Darkness is an enjoyable read.