Michael Connelly’s 1992 debut – the first Harry Bosch novel in a series that has now spanned 18 installments (including this year’s The Crossing – was an Edgar Award-winner for best first novel. Deservedly, too. The Black Echo is an unabashed police procedural, but is anything but pedestrian, sparked to life by Bosch’s doggedness and dedication to the mission, and Connelly’s appreciation for nailing the facts and capturing the feel of early-nineties Los Angeles. Connelly was working the crime beat for the LA times at the time of publication and his expertise shows on the page; always palatably and for the sake of the narrative; never as an exhibitionist.
Bosch has been relegated to “Hollywood Division” homicide after killing the main suspect in the “Dollmaker” serial-killing case (which Connelly returns to in his third novel, The Concrete Blonde). He’s woken early one morning by a call from his lieutenant – a body has been found in a sewer pipe, and although it looks like death by overdose, Bosch needs to sign off on that initial conclusion. Bosch soon discovers the dead man is a fellow “tunnel rat” he knew in Vietnam named Billy Meadows; and further enquiry reveals his involvement in an audacious bank robbery which is currently being investigated by the FBI. Despite being warned off the case and advised it no longer falls under his purview, Bosch’s insistence leads to his partnering with agent Eleanor Wish. Meanwhile, Bosch is being is being monitored by IAD – not his first rodeo with the department, who’ve long-considered Harry a bent cop – and these two investigations eventually coalesce spectacularly.
The Black Echo twists and turns through its labyrinth plot with a deftness that belies Connelly’s years as a novelist. The author has acknowledged in interviews that his first novel was the one and only time he plotted out his story from beginning to end, but this process doesn’t stilt novel’s flow. The novel’s final twist – Connelly’s specialty – is fittingly unexpected, and reminds us that the world of cops and robbers isn’t black and white; it’s full of greys.
Returning to Michael Connelly’s first novel was a real pleasure. I’ve long-declared him my favourite crime writer, and my primary inspiration. The Black Echo lacks the refinement of his later work – as you’d expect, his writing only improves (and reaches its apex – in my opinion – with Echo Park) but shines nonetheless.