Review: The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

Black EchoMichael 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.

ISBN: 9781742371603
Classification: Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback
Pages: 496
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2009
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

9 DragonsNINE DRAGONS is the fourteenth Harry Bosch novel – but it was my first. Since then, I’ve read – and re-read, in most cases – the entirety of Michael Connelly’s output. This week, I decided to go back and try to identify why NINE DRAGONS ensnared me. Because there’s no doubt: Connelly is firmly established as one of my favourite writers; and his Bosch series is unrivalled. In my mind, it’s damn near unbeatable.

There is no elongated build-up; no unwieldy setup. NINE DRAGONS begins with Bosch and his new partner, Ignacio Ferras, handed a fresh case; the murder of a convenience store clerk. The victim is Chinese, and before long the detectives discover a Triad connection. Evidently, the store owner paid off a Triad enforcer for ‘protection’ every month; this, in the midst of the economic downturn, meant the store was barely breaking even. The connotation seem clear: the store owner stopped paying, and he was executed as punishment. Of course, this being a Michael Connelly novel, there’s more to the case than what is on the surface. There is no one better at leading readers one way, then shifting momentum and propelling them another. His whodunits have twists like a Mobius band.

The Triad connection means this case is bigger than anything Harry has ever faced. The criminal organization is widespread; a global machine with impossible reach. So thirteen year old Madeline Bosch, who lives with her mother in Hong Kong, is an easy target. Their message to Bosch is clear: keep out of Triad business. But the LA detective’s never been one to play by other people’s rules. He changes the game, and heads to Hong Kong, to take on his daughter’s kidnappers directly…

As far as Bosch novels go, NINE DRAGONS is a solid entry in the series. Few of the books – besides THE OVERLOOK – possess the same thrust; even fewer raise the stakes as significantly. But in throwing Madeline’s life on the line, NINE DRAGONS becomes more thriller than whodunit; by no means a bad thing, but it does make the novel less representative of Connelly’s usual fare.  As an entry into the series, it’s fantastic; its plot allows introductions to recurring characters, including Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) and sets up a new phase in Bosch’s life, with his daughter now playing a more integral role. The final twist – one of Connelly’s trademarks – is jarring, but for all the right reasons. This is an ending that sticks and twists.

3 Stars Good

ISBN: 9781742371542
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 21-Oct-2009
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

Concrete BlondeThe third Harry Bosch novel is one of the series’ best, with the LAPD detective facing trial for the wrongful killing of Norman Church; the man Bosch had pegged as the notorious serial killer, ‘The Dollmaker.’ Bosch maintains he gunned down the right man, and is adamant he had no other choice but to squeeze the trigger –it was kill or be killed – but just as the trial begins he receives a taunting message eerily reminiscent of the notes the Dollmaker teased police with years ago. Following the message’s instructions, Bosch locates a body – ‘the concrete blonde’ – who has seemingly been murdered by the Dollmaker. Did Bosch take an innocent man’s life? Is the Dollmaker still out there, preying on unsuspecting women? Or is this the work of a copycat?

THE CONCRETE BLONDE is a hard-edged mystery, delving deep into the dirty world of the pornography industry and the devious intentions of a cold-blooded killer. Connelly discloses the complicated mentalities of police detectives, underlining how exposure to the bleakest aspects of humanity can impact our protectors. In terms of plotting and raw pace, this is Connelly performing at his peak. The sheer number of twists and turns in the narrative is stunning: the reader is constantly wrong-footed. The true identity of the new killer is revealed in a pulse-pounding finale: one of Connelly’s most satisfying conclusions. The parallel storyline involving Bosch’s trial is equally captivating, and used here as a clever device to reveal much of the protagonist’s backstory. In that respect, THE CONCRETE BLONDE serves as a wonderful introduction to Harry Bosch.

Only with hindsight do we realise the extent to which Connelly has refined his craft in subsequent novels. Much of the novel is dedicated to Bosch’s relationship, and his struggle to cope with the demands involved. It’s a little heavy-handed at times, and repetitive, but fundamental to understanding the complex psyche of the lead detective.  This is a man wholly dedicated to his mission: he will allow nothing to stand in his way.

With an abundance of smarts and thrills, THE CONCRETE BLONDE is one of Connelly’s best, and is perhaps the novel that underlined the talent of a writer who we now recognize as one of the greatest crime writers of all time.

Review: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Burning RoomWhen Orlando Merced succumbs to complications from a bullet wound suffered almost a decade ago, Detective Harry Bosch and his new rookie partner, Lucia Soto, of the LAPD’s cold cases unit, are tasked with the investigation. Utilizing Bosch’s decades of experience, and Soto’s impressive zeal, the two unearth new evidence that suggests this wasn’t a random hit; this was an assassination attempt. But was Merced, a musician, the intended target? And if he wasn’t, then who was?

Over recent years, each new instalment in the Harry Bosch series has brought with it excitement and trepidation. Bosch’s career with the LAPD is winding down: enforced retirement beckons. Bosch’s mission, and his mantra – “everybody counts or nobody counts” – has defined his existence for so long; what will he become without the badge to fulfil his purpose? More importantly for readers, what becomes of this long-established series, not totalling a remarkable 17 novels?  Connelly lays the foundation for a prospective spin-off with the introduction of Lucia Soto, who is so much more than a gender-switched Harry Bosch facsimile.

Much of THE BURNING ROOM is dedicated to her personal mission, and the driving force behind her decision to sign up for the LAPD and work cold cases: the Bonnie Brae fire more than twenty years ago, deemed an unsolved arson job that resulted in the deaths of nine people, most of whom were children. Rather than dissuade her from working the case, Bosch aids her. Connelly deftly flicks between both investigations, building momentum in these dual narratives, which conclude in typical Connelly fashion: not as we expect.

There are fleeting mentions of Bosch’s supporting cast: his daughter’s continuing interest in policing remains an interesting plot point, if only because it seems far too derivative of Connelly to reignite the series with Bosch’s daughter playing as the protagonist, which begs the question: where is this particular thread leading? Several other characters from the Bosch canon make an appearance, but they’re not merely salutes to veteran readers: each character plays a vital role in the narrative’s progression.

THE BURNING ROOM is a refined police procedural, and if this is Bosch’s swansong in the LAPD, it’s a fine note to depart on: bittersweet, which surmises his career with the department, and how Michael Connelly’s legion of fans will feel when Bosch’s retirement is official.

Review: The Overlook by Michael Connelly

the-overlookTHE OVERLOOK began its existence as a sixteen-part narrative published in The New York Times Magazine, and it’s evident from the start that this is a very different Harry Bosch novel.

Despite the expansions and connective tissue added for its mass market release, THE OVERLOOK reflects its inaugural audience; it’s lean, it’s fast and it lacks much of the subtlety
Michael Connelly’s work is lauded for. Instead, it reads like an episode of 24, with a real focus on plot rather than rich characterization. But just because it doesn’t read like a traditional Bosch novel doesn’t make it unworthy of its place within the acclaimed series. If anything, it’s rather delightful seeing Connelly work different muscles using the same old characters, paring down on the facets of his writing that he’s renowned for. The trademark twists and turns are here; they’re just rapid-fire, bang-bang-bang, one after the other; relentless. This makes sense, given the gravity of the case Bosch is working, which has catastrophic implications for the entire city. Connelly smartly throws his protagonist into a situation we’ve not seen him face before, thereby validating the pace of the tale. It reads fast because Bosch needs to be fast to succeed.

As the successor to the masterpiece ECHO PARK, THE OVERLOOK doesn’t reach those heights. What we’ve got here is Michael Connelly stripped down; raw. This isn’t the best Bosch novel, but in terms of pure entertainment, it ranks right up there.