Review: Robert Crais' 'Suspect' is action-packed

"Suspect" (Putnam), by Robert Crais

Los Angeles police officer Scott James and his partner, Stephanie Anders, were searching for an all-night noodle house late one night when they ran straight into a gun battle.

Five masked men were raking a Bentley with automatic weapons, cutting the occupants to pieces. The officers jumped from their patrol car to intervene, but when the shooting was over, Stephanie lay dead in the street, and Scott was badly wounded.

On the other side of the world, Maggie, an 85-pound German shepherd trained to sniff out explosives, went on alert as an old man approached her Marine patrol. Before the dog and her handler could stop him, the man detonated a bomb he'd concealed beneath his clothing. As Maggie stood guard over her dying master, terrorists shot her.

Months later, Scott and Maggie, both hobbling from their wounds and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (yes, dogs get it, too), are united as a new team in the Los Angeles police department's K-9 platoon.

Defying their orders, they set out together to solve Stephanie's unsolved murder.

Crais, one of the masters of modern crime fiction, unwinds his plot slowly at first, devoting the first half of the book to developing the relationship between the two damaged but determined partners. But in the second half, the suspense is high and the pace blistering, culminating in an action scene as hot as anything in a "Lethal Weapon" movie.

Still, the best part of the book is the interaction between Scott and Maggie as they struggle to overcome PTSD; learn to trust, love and rely on one another; and discover that each offers the other the best chance for a new start in life.

Maggie is a strong character in her own right, with Crais even writing several chapters from her point of view. "She had ranged ahead to protect him, but now her heart soared when Scott entered the room. They were a pack. A pack of two, they were one." This risky device would be a disaster in a lesser writer's hands, but Crais, who did a lot of research about doggie behavior and psychology, pulls it off brilliantly.

The result is a story that is action-packed, deeply touching and sure to be one of the best-written and most original crime novels of the year.

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