Elvis Cole has been kidnapped, and Joe Pike is hunting the man who took him. Elvis is Joe’s best friend, and Joe will do whatever it takes to find him. Joe was Force Recon in the Marines and worked as a mercenary, so whatever really means “whatever.”

In the novel “Taken” by Robert Crais, a bajadores is a predator that kidnaps people being smuggled into the country. The bajadores, the Syrian, demands ransom from the families of the people he kidnaps. His ransom demands are low, and as long as the families pay, the demands continue. But no matter how much is paid, no one ever goes home, and now he has Elvis.

Nita Morales saw a magazine article dubbing Elvis Cole the world’s greatest detective. She hires him to find her daughter, Krista. Nita received a ransom demand for $500. She thinks this may be an attempt by Krista and her boyfriend, Jack, to get money to marry. Krista is ready to graduate summa cum laude from college, and Nita wants Elvis to find her before she can ruin her future.

As Cole retraces Krista’s steps, he finds himself in the desert at the sight of an old plane wreck. The wreck has long been a drop site for illegal immigrants being brought into the country.  Nita herself was brought to the United States through this area when she was 7.

As Cole searches the area, he finds some disturbing evidence and calls in Joe Pike to get his read on what took place. Pike, through training and experience, is very good at reading and interpreting clues and physical evidence. He finds lots of tracks and footprints — multiple vehicles, many people — and blood; someone died there.

Cole’s investigation points to Krista and Jack being taken and that the ransom demand is real. Now Cole has to find who took them and where and figure out how to get them back.

Crais lets us know in the first few chapters that Krista and Jack are in trouble and that Pike is hunting for Cole.  He then steps back and lets Elvis take us through the events that lead to him being taken. Building the suspense, Crais ties the events with a count of the days since Krista and Jack were taken and a countdown to Cole’s abduction. The last third of the book is Pike’s hunt for Elvis, and you feel his urgency and the push to make things happen.

Crais has a long-running series with Cole and Pike, with Elvis as the central character. A fellow reader, John, told me a long time ago I needed to read Crais. John and I like the same authors, so I should have listened.

Elvis Cole is a likeable guy with a sense of humor. Joe Pike is a yoga-practicing vegetarian who runs miles a day, sometimes with a 40-pound pack, and owns a gun shop. He is also a part-time mercenary and owns the detective agency with Elvis.  Elvis is a talker. Joe sees no need for unnecessary words, and conversations are short, usually with one-word sentences.

When I decided to give Crais a try last month, I started with the more recent Pike novels. “The Watchman” is the first in that series and my introduction to Joe Pike – who is a read-alike for all you Lee Child Reacher fans. I was hooked. “Taken” is not the Pike series but actually number 14 in the Cole novels. Whatever the series, this suspenseful, intense novel is not to be missed.