During the past decade, Robert Crais ' series of mysteries featuring private eye Elvis Cole has been described as the Southern California version of Spenser - without the pretentious posturing but with the kind of terrific plotting that Robert B. Parker used to be known for.
With his latest, "L.A. Requiem," Crais achieves a whole new level of suspense with a story that makes use of its setting and recent history in a way that is reminiscent of James Ellroy and Stephen Hunter.
Though Elvis' wisecracking, first-person narrative is still the prominent voice in this story, the focus here is on his partner, the ultra-laconic - and deadly - Joe Pike.
Joe and Elvis are hired to find Karen Garcia, the missing daughter of a rich, politically connected businessman.
Elvis is surprised to see the great regard her father has for Pike and even more surprised to learn that Karen was Pike's first, and possibly only, love.
But when Karen's murdered body is discovered, it gives Pike's enemies in the LAPD a chance to get revenge.
Many in the department have never forgiven Pike for shooting his partner during the arrest of a pedophile years before.
And while only a few cops are motivated and corrupt enough to actively work to get Joe, far fewer will lift a finger to help him.
But no matter the mountains of evidence, the long odds and the powerful forces arrayed against you, when your partner is being framed, you gotta do something about it.
Elvis' only ally is Samantha Dolan, a hard-drinking, emotionally vulnerable LAPD detective who refuses to hop on board with the railroad prepared for Pike.
The cops, however, are the least of Elvis' worries. As much as they hate Pike, there are lines they will not cross.
That cannot be said about the real killer, a twisted but crafty psycho who uses the media circus around Pike's arrest to his best advantage.
Making matters worse, as the case gets closer to home, Elvis' girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, becomes worried that being near Elvis and Joe is not the greatest thing for her son.
"L.A. Requiem" is easily the best book in this fine mystery series.
Elvis is still a witty guide to Los Angeles and the story, but the sometimes-juvenile edge to his humor has been muted for this more somber tale.
But what really makes this story special is the emergence of Pike - who, up until now, might have been thought of as merely the white version of Spenser's sidekick, Hawk - as a three-dimensional character.
The flashbacks into Pike's background as a cop, as a Special Forces warrior in Vietnam and as the brutalized son of a backwoods alcoholic father alone are worth the price of the book.
Reminiscent of the gritty and finely constructed short stories of Jim Harrison, they add an emotional and historical depth that Crais has never demonstrated before.
The ending, while immensely satisfying, is anything but pat and leaves several characters at loose ends, both professionally and emotionally.
It will be interesting to see how Crais follows up on "L.A. Requiem" because he has set a new standard here.
Rather than signifying an end, this requiem may mark a new beginning for Crais and his appealing cast.