Detective fiction novelist Robert Crais
published The Forgotten Man
, the tenth novel in his Elvis Cole series, in 2006. Continuing to follow the adventures of veteran LA private eye Elvis Cole, whose growing fame as a detective has exposed him and his family to enough violence that his wife has taken their child and left him. In The Forgotten Man
, Cole has to confront a mystery that has a personal dimension – the murder of a man who claimed to be the father that Cole never knew.
The novel opens as Cole receives a call at four in the morning from the police: Detective Kelly Diaz has just found a shooting victim in an alley who looks like a homeless man but who in his dying breath begs the officers who found him to call his long lost son, Elvis Cole.
Cole is shocked – he has never met his father, and doesn’t know anything about him. Could this be his chance to get some answers once and for all? Cole has a flashback to his childhood, when in order to find his deadbeat father, he once ran away from home to look for his father at the circus, taking literally his mother’s offhand remark that his dad was “the human cannonball.”
Back in the present, Cole doubts that this man could be his father. More likely, a kook has simply latched onto Cole’s name because of how famous the detective has become. Still, there is no time to do a DNA test, which could take weeks, so Cole asks for help from his best friend and partner, Joe Pike, as well as Detective Carol Starkey, an LAPD friend. Starkey used to work on the Bomb Squad (and was a major character in one of Crais’s other novels), and she has unrequited feelings for Cole.
Together, they start investigating the murder. The man was killed near the Home Away Suites motel where he had registered under the name Herbert Faustina and where he was apparently meeting an escort. However, neither of these details means much: the name is a fake, and he wasn’t robbed for his escort payment cash.
The narrative switches to the point of view of a new character, gas station attendant Frederick Conrad. Conrad, a paranoid delusional man, is fixated on Cole and his interest in the “Herbert Faustina” case. In Conrad’s mind, it seems obvious that Faustina was murdered by none other than the “World’s Greatest Detective,” Elvis Cole. Seeing possible assassins around every corner and convinced that Cole is actually hunting him down, Conrad starts to try to turn the tables by getting the drop on Cole before Cole can find him.
As Cole and company unravel the increasingly complex case, they piece together what has actually happened. Many years earlier, most of the members of the Diaz family were brutally murdered, but the crime went unsolved. The sole surviving member of the Diaz family, Kelly Diaz, went on to become a homicide detective in the LAPD. Using the resources at her disposal, she learned that the man responsible for the murders was most likely a psychopathic young man named David Reinnike, a scary presence in Diaz’s old neighborhood who was known for violent outbursts and other terrifying behavior. Even though there was some evidence that David was responsible for killing her family, there was never enough evidence to put him away – because his father, George Reinnike covered up his son’s crimes to protect him. Ever since then, George has been living under the assumed name “Payne” in order to avoid detection, while his son’s whereabouts are a mystery.
Eaten away by his guilt at not doing the right thing, George Reinnike called Detective Diaz to confess his role. Instead of taking him into custody, Diaz convinces George to meet her in the hotel alleyway, where she shoots him and plants articles about Cole in his things to confuse the case and throw the blame off her.
When Cole figures out that Herbert Faustina was actually George Reinnike, he realizes that David has been staking out Cole’s house and is an imminent threat. At the novel’s climax, Cole and Diaz have a tense standoff with David. David shoots and incapacitates Diaz, and then attacks Cole almost fatally. Just in time, Pike comes to save his partner, shooting and killing David. He administers CPR to a dying Cole, while Cole has a macabre dream about a family.
The novel ends with Cole and Diaz in the hospital, recovering from their wounds. Pike stays by Cole’s side, holding his hand until he knows that his friend will make it out alive.