‘Demolition Angel’ Will Blow You Back

The first rule of the fiction writer is to get the reader’s attention. A fiery explosion that tears a bomb squad member to pieces works to that effect. And that’s only the prologue of “Demolition Angel,” by Robert Crais.

Carol Starkey is a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Criminal Conspiracy Section, formerly of the bomb squad. She smokes, drinks and had her heart stop for five minutes after becoming the victim of an explosion, three years ago. She is alive today only because her partner, and lover, was in front of her when the bomb went off, tearing him to kibble. Since then he has gone through four therapists.

Suffice it to say, she has some issues.

Everyone is, therefore, reasonably concerned when the rotation brings her the homicide-by-explosive of bomb technician Charlie Riggio, a former acquintance. Despite this, Starkey takes the case. Soon after, Special Agent James Pell of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms arrives in Los Angeles, informing Starkey of a bomber who calls himself Mr. Red. Mr. Red is a serial killer who takes a job as an assassin. He revels in the fire, the pressure, and in all the pretty colors of an explosion..

Robert Crais’ “Demolition Angel” is a fun novel. The negative aspects are few and far between, and due mostly to the lack of character description. Supporting characters may, at times, be hard to keep track of, but it hardly requires the concentration needed for a midterm exam to remember who’s who, and is less important. Aside from that-and the author’s fondness for hitting the enter button before each line of dialogue so one has to concentrate to figure out who’s saying what-there is nothing wrong with this book.

While the physical details of character are slightly lacking, their personalities are fully developed. Robert Crais does a fine job of making Caroline Starkey’s personal neuroses relevant to the plot and highly readable (i.e.: they aren’t drawn out as though the author is a sadist. This is not one of those long wallows in misery as beloved by English teachers who assign John Steinbeck). He plays upon her quirks so that the reader begins to care about what happens to her. Crais also develops Mr. Red in such a way as to make him one of the more disturbing villains since “Tribulations,” by Michael Straczynski.

Let us suppose, for a moment, you do not like the plot, or even the characters. You might enjoy the highly technical mentality of Crais’ writing, as he describes the exact amount of force involved in each explosion, down to the pound of pressure per square inch. This book has more than you ever wanted to know about bombs, and more than enough action to make Patricia Cromwell look slow.

It’s now out in paperback, so if you have the price of a movie ticket-or even a little less-you can find “Demolition Angel” in your nearest Barnes & Noble.