March 03, 2003 12:00 PM

by Robert Crais

Hotshot private eye Elvis Cole is looking after the 10-year-old son of his girlfriend when the boy disappears. A kidnapper calls demanding not money but revenge for the bloody Vietnam War firefight that left Cole with a chestful of medals and all of his Ranger buddies dead. The squeaky-clean war hero immediately suspects a ruse, but the cops aren’t so sure and burn up valuable time trying to connect him to the kidnappers. So it’s up to Cole to figure out what the kidnappers really want and find the kid before it’s too late.

In his latest thriller, the ninth with witty Elvis Cole on the case, Crais keeps the adrenaline pumping. The bad guys, soldiers of fortune with special-ops expertise, are pleasingly menacing and coolly efficient: They like what they do. While Crais’s last bestseller, Hostage, delivered great action but was thin on character, The Last Detective provides a complex look into Cole’s past that is both interesting and helps drive the military-themed plot. Too bad his riveting sidekick Joe Pike, a brooding tough guy who makes a dramatic entrance during a Jack London-style Alaskan bear hunt, doesn’t get more ink. Maybe next time. (Doubleday, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Elvis is king

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