Joe Pike, a supporting character in Robert Crais's Elvis Cole series, takes center stage in The First Rule, Crais's second crime thriller to feature Pike.

Why did you return to Joe Pike?

Joe is so different for me to write as a character. In the outline for The Monkey's Raincoat, he was actually supposed to die at the end. That's how smart I am. But when I got to that scene, I just couldn't do it, so I had him wounded instead. I'm a very personal writer. I put myself into the characters' head space and live with them for an extended period. I just had so much fun being with Joe in The Watchman that I wanted to do it again.

Why did you focus on Eastern European organized crime?

Over the years living in Los Angeles, I've been hearing about the growing criminal element from Eastern Europe. With Joe Pike, if he's going to be a dragon slayer, you need a dragon to slay. Everything I've learned from my law enforcement friends about the Eastern European gangs says that they're as tough, dangerous, and merciless as they come.

How did you do your research?

I've developed quite a network of friends in all levels of law enforcement, from LAPD through ATF and Secret Service. I've been out with the ATF shooting machine guns. That's a great way to not write for an afternoon, but it also gives me all the little details that make a satisfying and rich read. Joe isn't a gun nut who likes guns for guns' sake. He sees them as necessary tools of his trade. There's no emotional rush. If he were a woodsman, he'd be using an ax.

Was the sustained intensity of the violence in The First Rule a conscious choice?

Yes. That's one of the big differences between the Joe books and the Elvis Cole books. In many ways, Joe is very primordial. I think readers respond to his not being hampered by lots of grays. Joe is a very direct man. These books are thrillers, and I want them to be intense, involving reads. There's plot, but there isn't just plot. My stories are all character driven, and the human connection to the characters is far more important to me than the techno stuff. As a writer, what I want to do is touch other human beings. Just because Joe moves through a black-and-white world doesn't mean he's a simplistic character.