In ‘The Wanted,’ author Robert Crais sets his hero Elvis Cole on a course to protect a family from the danger that threatens

For Robert Crais, inspiration comes from anywhere, at any time – say, for instance, a scruffy old cat, hanging out in Crais’ imagination with the world’s greatest detective.

“The very first scene that came to me – and usually my books do come to me with a moment or scene – was Elvis Cole and his cat,” says Crais, describing how he started to write “The Wanted,” the 17th book in his series about Cole, who, as you may have guessed, is billed as the world’s greatest at detecting this and that. “I saw this moment where he’s out on his deck with his cat and he’s feeling kind of low.

“He’s thinking about Ben Chenier” – from earlier in the Elvis Cole series –  “who was sort of like a surrogate son who’s gone from his life,” Crais says. “And he looks at the cat and goes, ‘I don’t have a family, I have a cat.’

“And his sadness at that damn near broke my heart.”

In “The Wanted,” for which Crais will do readings and signings in Orange, Huntington Beach, Pasadena and Santa Monica this week, that thread – the longing for family, the need to protect them – runs throughout the mystery at the heart of Cole’s case. A mother discovers her teenage son is involved in something shady and contacts Cole for help. At the same time two seriously scary but unusually interesting bad guys are hunting for the kid and his two accomplices.

Which results in a book that with Crais’ usual talent for unexpected twists and skill at spinning a tale, revolves around whether or not Elvis, and his seriously dangerous sidekick Joe Pike, figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

“Invariably the books aren’t so much about the clients who come to Elvis Cole, the books are about Elvis Cole and how the clients impact him,” Crais says. “That’s my hook. That’s what led me to thinking about Elvis and the family he doesn’t have, the family he wanted to have.”

In this book, the actual mystery takes most of the…

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