"The Wanted" by Robert Crais; Putnam (336 pages, $28). (Penguin Random House)

After a three-year hiatus, Robert Crais makes a triumphant return to his long-time hero, Los Angeles private investigator Elvis Cole, in the taut, inventive “The Wanted.”

Crais’ 17th novel seamlessly glides back into the rhythm of Elvis, and, of course, his enigmatic sidekick Joe Pike, with a timely tale about disaffected teenagers, materialistic values and devastating secrets.

Elvis is hired by single mother Devin Connor, who is worried that her teenage son, Tyson, may be dealing drugs. Suffering from anxiety issues, Tyson has been expelled from two schools because of chronic lateness and failing grades. But since he’s been enrolled in an alternative school, Tyson has been sporting expensive clothes and Devin recently found a $40,000 Rolex and bundles of thousands of dollars hidden in his bedroom.

The good news, as Elvis discovers, is Tyson is not into drugs. The bad news is he is part of a trio of teens who have burglarized 18 expensive homes in exclusive enclaves. The teens are after the thrill of hauling away anything they can carry — jewelry, cash, electronics. But one laptop they take contains some sensitive files that puts hit men Harvey and Stemms on their trail. Now Elvis isn’t just trying to find out what Tyson is up to, he’s also trying to save the young man’s life. That won’t be easy since Tyson, along with his friends Alec and Amber, has disappeared.

Crais skillfully moves “The Wanted” through a labyrinth of believable twists and turns. Elvis has been most missed by readers and “The Wanted” delves deeper into his personality, as well as showing that even Elvis is capable of maturing. Well, somewhat. And Crais wisely keeps Pike out of the story until halfway through the story so that when he does show up his presence over the plot is even stronger. Crais’ affinity for solid villains again shines in Harvey and Stemms, whose Tarantino-esque banter and sincere affection for each other further enhance “The Wanted.”

One of Crais’ achievements in “The Wanted” is how profoundly he delves into the persona of three drifting, but very different teenagers. These are teenagers who have seen too much TV, played too many games, and are not sure what reality really is. Burglaries, hit men and stolen secrets may be fodder for movies, but these teens can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is a story.

Welcome back, Elvis.

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