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Hostage: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – June 25, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Robert Crais is the real thing: a writer who keeps topping himself. Last year, after eight popular books featuring private eye Elvis Cole (including L.A. Requiem and Voodoo River), he produced Demolition Angel, his first standalone suspense novel. Its complex, multidimensional hero was a damaged cop haunted by her past failures. It worked in that book, and it works even better in this one.

Jeff Talley, the police chief in a small Southern California town, still has nightmares about the young hostage who died when he made the wrong call in his previous job as a negotiator for an LAPD SWAT team. Now, three smalltime punks go on the run after a grocery store robbery and killing in Talley's town. Soon his deputies have surrounded the house where the inept robbers have taken Walter Smith and his two children hostage, and Talley's back in his worst dream again: until the county sheriff's full-fledged SWAT team arrives and takes over, he has to negotiate for their lives.

Crais keeps the point of view moving from Talley to the punks to the hostages as the situation unfolds in the house and on the ground. Then he ratchets up the dramatic tension: there's something in Walter Smith's house that a ruthless Mob boss wants, and he'll sacrifice anyone to get it--which puts Talley's own family in danger. The action speeds to its climax with the velocity of a heat-seeking missile, which makes it almost criminal to slow down long enough to savor the great writing. Take this passage, from a scene when Talley's face-to-face with the man who's holding his own wife and daughter hostage:

Talley ... had stepped into the Zone. It was a place of white noise where emotions reigned and reason was meager. Anger and rage were nonstop tickets; panic was an express. He had been all day coming to this, and here he was: the SWAT guys used to talk about it. You went to the Zone, you lost your edge. You'd lose your career; you'd get yourself killed, or, worse, somebody else.
Crais belongs in that tier of writers whose novelistic gifts transcend the thriller category--writers like Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and James Lee Burke. Hostage is a breakout. --Jane Adams --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The title of Crais's fiery third thriller (after L.A. Requiem and Demolition Angel) can refer not just to the two sets of innocents held at gunpoint in the story but to the reader, who will be wired tight to the book. The novel launches with a familiar (as familiar as Demolition Angel) premise: a soul-scarred cop here, former L.A. SWAT hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, now chief of police of smalltown Bristo Bay, Calif. plunges into an assignment that forces him to confront his demons. The devil clawing Talley's brain is the dying gaze of a young hostage he failed to save in L.A. Now three outlaws two lowlife brothers and a homicidal maniac have, after botching a robbery-homicide, taken refuge in a swank house in Bristo Bay. At their mercy are the family's dad, whom they've knocked unconscious, and his teen daughter and preteen son. The whopper of a complication is that the dad serves as bookkeeper for Sonny Benza, West Coast mob kingpin, and Benza will do whatever's necessary to retrieve the incriminatory records secreted in the house before the cops storm the place. The narrative ticks with suspense as Talley negotiates with the three outlaws, and as they and the kids they're holding respond with panic, fear and courage to the escalating tension. It snaps into overdrive as Benza and his goons snatch Talley's wife and daughter, holding them ransom for the records; the flow is marred only by a couple of cheap turns obviously devised for the silver screen. Thriller vets will have seen a lot of this before, but every virtuoso is allowed variations on a theme, and Crais, with his record and with the smart suspense offered here, has proven himself nothing less. (On-sale date: Aug. 7)Forecast: Crais sells more with each title, and this will prove no exception. A 15-city author tour will enhance his visibility, as will forthcoming film versions of Demolition Angel and of Hostage, which has already been bought for Bruce Willis and MGM; Crais is writing the screenplays for both films.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Fawcett (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345434498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345434494
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (270 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Crais is the author of the best-selling Elvis Cole novels. He was the 2006 recipient of the Ross Macdonald Literary Award.

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River in a blue collar family of oil refinery workers and four generations of police officers. He purchased a second-hand paperback of Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister when he was fifteen, which inspired his lifelong love of writing, Los Angeles, and the literature of crime fiction.

He journeyed to Hollywood in 1976 where he quickly found work writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, and Miami Vice, as well as scripting numerous series pilots and movies-of-the-week for the major networks.

Feeling constrained by the collaborative working requirements of Hollywood, Crais resigned from a lucrative position as a contract writer and television producer in order to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a novelist. His first efforts proved unsuccessful, but upon the death of his father in 1985, Crais was inspired to create Elvis Cole, using elements of his own life as the basis of the story. The resulting novel, The Monkey's Raincoat, won the Anthony and Macavity Awards and was nominated for the Edgar Award. It has since been selected as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

Crais conceived of the novel as a stand-alone, but realized that, in Elvis Cole, he had created an ideal and powerful character through which to comment upon his life and times. Elvis Cole's readership skyrocketed in 1999 upon the publication of L. A. Requiem, which was a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller and forever changed the way Crais conceived of and structured his novels. Larger and deeper in scope, Publishers Weekly wrote of L. A. Requiem, "Crais has stretched himself the way another Southern California writer, Ross Macdonald, always tried to do, to write a mystery novel with a solid literary base." Booklist added, "This is an extraordinary crime novel that should not be pigeonholed by genre. The best books always land outside preset boundaries. A wonderful experience."

Crais followed with his first non-series novel, Demolition Angel, which was published in 2000 and featured former Los Angeles Police Department Bomb Technician Carol Starkey. In 2001, Crais published his second non-series novel, Hostage, which was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and was a world-wide bestseller. The editors of selected Hostage as the #1 thriller of the year. A film adaptation of Hostage was released in 2005, starring Bruce Willis as ex-LAPD SWAT negotiator Jeff Talley.

Robert Crais lives in the Santa Monica mountains with his wife, three cats, and many thousands of books. Additional information can be found at his website,

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Wayne C. Rogers on August 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When Robert Crais writes a book as good as HOSTAGE, I can almost forgive him for making me and his other fans wait two very long years for the next "Elvis Cole/Joe Pike" novel. Remember, I said almost. HOSTAGE is the story of Jeff Talley (think Bruce Willis!), a former LAPD SWAT negotiator who quit his job and left his family due to serious stress, burnout, and guilt over a hostage negotiation that turned bad. He's now the Chief of Police of Bristo Camino, a small California community where life is simpler and the job less demanding. At least it is, until two young hoods and a deadly psychopath rob a minimart and kill its owner. In a futile attempt to escape the police, the three criminals jump the wall of a housing development and invade the home of Walter Smith, taking him and his two children hostage. Talley and his people, along with the help of the California Highway Patrol, surround the house; and, for the most part, things run smoothly. Talley uses his skills as a former hostage negotiator to keep the criminals inside the house calm, biding his time until the L.A. County Sheriff's SWAT team arrive to take over. When they do and Talley signs off control of the situation, his troubles aren't ending. No way. What he thought was a bad day is going to swiftly turn into a nightmare that will push him right to the edge. You see, Walter Smith isn't an ordinary family man. He's the accountant for the West Coast mob and has two computer disks in his home office, loaded with information that can literally bring the criminal organization down to its knees. Mob honcho, Sonny Benza, has no intention of letting the local police or even the FBI get possession of these incriminating disks.Read more ›
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Shelley Mckibbon on March 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is, for most of the ride, a darned good thriller. The story begins with an account of an LA hostage negotiator in a situation that will haunt him forever, and it may haunt me for a while, too. Crais doesn't play up the gory aspect, what bothered me was the trip inside the negotiator's mind, figuring out what's going on about two steps behind the character. It was believable and horrifying.
When the story shifts to the here-and-now, we find ourselves in the company of Dennis Rooney..., his younger brother Kevin (probably described by most who know him as "a wimp, but not a bad kid") and Mars, who would be giving Dennis the creeps if Dennis was bright enough to pay attention.
The trio rob a convenience store for no particular reason -- it seems like a good idea to Dennis, Mars doesn't offer any objections, and poor Kevin is in the truck with them and can't talk his brother out of it. You get the distinct impression that this is par for the course for Dennis and Kevin, but Dennis really ought to be thinking harder about Mars's reaction.
Predictably, the crime goes awry. Not "predictably" as in an objection to Crais's writing, but predictably in the sense that you just know any plot with Dennis at the helm is going to go bad, and soon. The three attempt to steal a getaway car and end up holding a family hostage. Talley, the negotiator from the prologue, gets called in to deal with them. Since the events of the prologue, Talley has left the LAPD and his family life is in disarray. Portrait of the Negotiator In Crisis -- and I believed that.
So far, so good. But the family in the house has mob connections, and the mob has reasons to want to control the outcome of this situation -- and at that point I started to get impatient.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The less you know about the details of this story before you read it, the more you will enjoy it. My recommendation is that you stop friends from telling you anything specific, and avoid reviews that summarize the book. As a result, I will characterize the book in a very general way so that you can decide if you want to read it or not without revealing much. Please forgive me for this reticence, but I think you will be glad when you are finished with the book.
First, let me provide a word of warning. The book contains references to sadism, torture, and violence against children. If such disturb your days or your sleep, perhaps you should ask a friend who has read the book how upsetting it was before deciding to go forward. I found these elements to advance the story, and not to be overplayed . . . but they are certainly there.
Hostage deals with situations where a criminal has seized someone as a bargaining chip for something they want. Hostage situations usually either lead to lots of people being killed, or everyone getting out alive. The difference is usually related to the skill, talent, and patience of the hostage negotiator.
Hostage's protagonist is the chief of police in a small town north of Los Angeles, Jeff Talley. He had served as such a hostage negotiator during part of a truncated career with the LAPD.
Having had that experience colors your view of the world in many ways. It makes you feel responsible for the hostages, the criminals, and for those who are helping you defuse the situation. That's a lot of responsibility to have on your shoulders. Also, you get used to lengthy delays, suddenly melting down psychotics, and impetuous colleagues.
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