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‘The Promise’ review: Robert Crais’ brilliant new character is a K-9 dog

"The Promise" by Robert Crais

"The Promise" by Robert Crais Credit: Putnam

THE PROMISE, by Robert Crais. Putnam., 402 pp., $27.95.

Robert Crais has long been one of the finest American crime writers, but he has won new praise and new fans with a surprising new character: a fearless 85-pound German shepherd, first introduced in his 2013 novel, “Suspect.” Maggie is a K-9 dog with the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad and has bonded deeply with K-9 Officer Scott James. Both are combat veterans of Afghanistan, and each would kill — or die — for the other.

As with most of Crais’ novels, the star is wisecracking private eye Elvis Cole. As the book begins, Cole is hired to find Amy Breslyn, whose son was killed by a terrorist’s bomb in Nigeria. Half-mad with grief, Amy has reached out to Los Angeles gangsters who say they will put her in contact with terrorists who can answer questions about her son’s death. Because she’s an expert on explosives, she can promise the terrorists weapons they urgently want in exchange for their information.

Cole’s search for Amy leads him to a cache of explosives. That brings Scott James and Maggie into the story. Scott and Maggie are soon threatened by a killer whose golden rule is “Never leave a witness.” The man’s effort to poison Maggie leads to one of the book’s most moving moments, when Scott says, in rage and disbelief, “He tried to kill my dog.” As far as Scott is concerned, this is enough to justify revenge.

We learn that Maggie was wounded in Afghanistan, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and dreams of her first handler, a Marine who was killed there, after which she came home and partnered with Scott. Maggie has been conditioned to protect a human partner, and the novel shows how law enforcement makes excellent use of her loyalty and skill.

There is, for example, her remarkable sense of smell: “With more than two hundred million scent receptors in her long shepherd’s nose, and almost a fourth of her brain devoted to her sense of smell, Maggie could recognize scents so faint they were measured in parts per trillion.” Moreover, the dog can hear “the whine of a jet at thirty thousand feet, termites chewing through wood, the crystal in Scott’s watch hum, and thousands of sounds as invisible to Scott as the scents he could not smell.”

Maggie is both a superhero and a wonderful character. The Mystery Writers of America last year honored Crais with its Grand Master Award, putting him in the company of such greats as James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King and Elmore Leonard. “The Promise” shows once again why he belongs there.

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