I have read all 32 — now 33 with The Night Fire — of Michael Connelly’s crime novels at least twice, and I’m almost certain I’ve read each instalment in the Harry Bosch series on three or four separate occasions. These books are nestled in my bookcase, spines proudly creased, pages yellowed; worn, and loved, and returned to. If one author epitomises precisely what I want from my crime fiction, it’s Connelly: enthralling police procedurals without the outrage pyrotechnics that blight many of his peers.
There has been a notable shift in Connelly’s writing since the premier of the Bosch television series. In the early days, the books focused on a single investigation. Think of Angels Flight, when Bosch investigated the murder of a high profile black lawyer; or City of Bones, when a chance discovery leads Bosch to discover a shallow grave in the Hollywood hills. More recently, Connelly’s novels have handled multiple narrative threads; separate investigations, not always connected, twisting around each other. Think The Wrong Side of Goodbye and Two Kinds of Truth. These novels read more like a television series; each chapter an episode contributing to an overarching story. One style is not better than the other, necessarily; in fact, I appreciate the evolution and refinement of Connelly’s craft.
The Night Fire is a perfect encapsulation of this ‘new’ brand of Connelly. Once again uniting former LAPD detective Harry Bosch — approaching 70, but who still bleeds blue despite giving up his badge years earlier — and Renee Ballard — an active cop who works midnight shift; the ‘late show’ — this new novel focuses primarily on their dual investigation into the cold case of the unsolved killing of ex-con John Hilton, whose murder book was hidden away in Bosch’s recently-deceased former partner’s study, for reasons unknown, but which we’ll discover. At the same time, Ballard is working her own case: the arson that killed a homeless man inside his tent. And as if Bosch didn’t have enough on his plate, dealing with a medical diagnosis that ties back to 2007’s The Overlook, he finds himself involved in the defence of the client of his half brother, Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller. Because if the defendant on trial isn’t responsible for the murder he’s accused of, there’s still a killer out there, who the police aren’t looking for. a
Connelly’s genius is his ability to render the slow, meticulous, dogged pursuit of murderers absolutely captivating. He is the unrivalled master of the police procedural. The Night Fire is a maze of distinct investigations, and Connelly is the perfect guide. Nothing excites me more in crime-lit than when Bosch has jazz playing on the stereo, he’s poured himself a mug of black coffee, and is about to open a murder book. I hope he’s got a few more cases left in him, but contented knowing Ballard is a more than capable replacement; not just a Bosch facsimile, but a character who lives and breathes in these pages.