Suspect by Robert Crais is an intense thriller involving powerful personal relationships. The author slightly veered away from his other novels in that this book involves new main characters instead of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. However, after reading this book Crais fans will not be longing for the past characters. In fact, they will be longing and hoping for another book involving the new characters: Maggie, Sergeant Dominick Leland, Joyce Cowly, and Scott James.
Crais decided to write this book because he was thinking a lot about his dog, Yossi, who died sixteen years ago. “Yossi’s loyalty was absolute. At the end of his days, he died in my arms, me blubbering like a baby. I have never replaced him. I think in writing this book it was very much a healing process for me. Maybe it is finally time to get another dog. I planned on writing it as a ‘stand alone book,’ telling Scott and Maggie’s story. I am thinking of possibly having Maggie and Scott cross paths with my other characters, Elvis and Joe. Yet, I am certainly not against making another series with Maggie, Scott, Leland, and Joyce. As long as I can come up with stories that keeps Maggie in a realistic situation I will keep writing this story.”
The first chapters of the book are very powerful and will draw the reader in completely. The story unfolds with a military working dog, Maggie, losing her handler after being wounded herself. While across the world, LAPD officer Scott James is in a similar situation as he watches his partner Stephanie being murdered and is helpless to do anything because he has been seriously wounded.
Fast-forward nine months later where Scott and Maggie’s journey begins. They have become kindred souls who must battle back from grave injuries, lost partners, and the need to prove themselves to others while battling horrific nightmares. A quote from the book summarizes it best as they become a team, a pack of two trying to make it in the LAPD canine unit, “That poor animal is unfit for this job, and I suspect the same about him. I hope to G-d in His Glory I am wrong, sincerely I do, but there it is. They are SUSPECT. That dog will help him realize he is not right for this job. Then she’ll go back to that family, and he’ll retire or transfer to a more suitable job, and all of us will be happier for it.”
Crais told blackfive.net that he intentionally used the title, Suspect, to convey to the reader that both Scott and Maggie were “suspect” and had to prove to the world that they were fit for duty, they could perform their jobs, and they could overcome their disorders. Yet, Crais did not want to steer too far away from what he is best known for, a crime novelist, so he evolved the story where Scott became a suspect in a crime.
There are many different layers to this book, including discussing the different relationship a military handler has with their dog as opposed to a police dog/handler relationship. A police handler is responsible for their dog over a longer period of years and they are partners on a 24/7 basis each and every day. Crais also goes into great detail how both Scott and Maggie battle PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and the ways they attempt to overcome it. He commented to blackfive.net, “My goal was to bring these two damaged creatures together pointing out how they needed each other to heal. I wanted to show how a person and a dog could fit together in a relationship.” This becomes evident during a scene in the book when Scott first sees Maggie, hears that the canine supervisors are not optimistic about her succeeding, and feels that in some ways they are talking about him. If he can save Maggie then he can save himself.
Just as many of his readers have done with their pets, Crais conveyed the thoughts of Maggie. He did this in a compelling and believable way. “I wanted to portray Maggie as a real dog and try to interpret what goes on in a dog’s head, their motivations, what they do and why. Dogs either want to please us or protect us. They become the BETA to the human ALPHA.”
The characters are extremely well developed. Scott has the drive to overcome his disorder and solve the mystery of his partner’s death. Leland became the voice of the handler/dog relationship, a pure dog man who is on this earth to shout out the importance of these dogs. Joyce is the police detective that befriends Scott and joins his mission to find the killer. And then there is Maggie. A word of caution, Crais’ portrayal of Maggie is so realistic, as the story unfolds readers might want to be next to their pet or at least have a picture by their side.
Suspect is a superb book. Hopefully the author will decide to continue writing about these characters in a series. There are two plots in this novel, one for those who love Crais as a crime novelist, and the other is a very powerful characterization that proves dog and man are truly best friends. He told blackfive.net, “ I fell in love with Maggie. She is like my dog now. I miss her and want her in my life,” which is how his readers will feel as well.