Review: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

Black BoxA promising beginning devolves into a solid, but unspectacular mystery starring the dogged Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.

Los Angeles has always played an important role in Michael Connelly’s novels; the Rodney King riots in particular. The Black Box begins in 1992, in the midst of the chaos. Bosch is assigned to an emergency rotation in South-Central, called out to various crime scenes and initiating the barest beginnings of an investigation into each crime of the danger involved operating in the vicinity. One crime in particular has always resonated with Harry, even twenty years later: a murder victim he christened ‘Snow White.’ Called to an alley off Crenshaw Boulevard, a squad of National Guard troops have found the body of a white woman, executed by a bullet to the head, who is eventually identified as Copenhagen journalist Anneke Jespersen.

Twenty years later, Bosch lands the case once again as part of his work with the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit. But the higher-ups don’t want the case solved. The repercussions of doing so – solving a white woman’s murder – are unthinkable for the city’s politicians. Of course, when has Harry Bosch ever allowed bureaucracy to sway him?

The Black Box begins strongly; taut and tightly-plotted, with Connelly deftly elaborating on Bosch’s investigatory moves, and dipping into his personal life; namely his relationship with Hannah Stone, and his daughter’s continued determination to follow her father’s footsteps into law enforcement. In fact, until the novel’s climax, The Black Box is right up there with Connelly’s best. But its conclusion is overblown and exaggerated, relying on unnecessary theatrics that come across a tad cheap; the success of the Bosch novels was always the mystery, not over-the-top action. Still, this one’s enjoyable; it’s just not Connelly’s finest.

ISBN: 9781743317525
Format: Paperback
Pages: 448
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Aug-2013
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Drop by Michael Connelly

TheDrop-high-resMy year-long binge-read through the Harry Bosch novels has underlined the impressiveness of Michael Connelly’s feat. Recently I posted my thoughts on the latest Jack Reacher thriller, Make Me, and lamented Lee Child’s recent inability to maintain the series’ momentum. There’s a staleness to the latter Reacher novels that is non-existent in the Bosch novels. I put this down to Connelly’s willingness to write outside Bosch’s sphere; the Mickey Haller novels allowed him to flex different creative muscles and therefore return to Bosch in rejuvenated spirits. Child, meanwhile, has remained with Reacher; unabated for twenty-one novels.

Of course, the Bosch novels are inherently procedurals, and there is a degree of uniformity with each instalment. But Connelly has a wonderful ability to play within the confines of the genre and keep things fresh. For example, The Drop sees Harry assigned to the Open-Unsolved unit. By having his protagonist working cold cases, Connelly reveals a different side of police work; and in this novel especially, he deftly weaves Harry between a politically-sensitive and current case, and a two-decades-old cold case.

The current case – designated as imperative due to the personnel involved – sees Bosch charged with the investigation into George Irving’s fatal fall from his seventh-story room at the Chateau Marmont. If that name rings a bell, you’re clearly familiar with Harry Bosch continuity; George’s father is city councilman Irvin Irving, the ex-deputy police chief whom featured prominently in Connelly’s early novels as one of Bosch’s primary foes. George’s death looks like suicide, but the councilman is adamant foul play was involved; his son was murdered. And despite their chequered past, Irving knows Bosch will discern the truth; he is familiar with Harry’s mantra: everybody counts, or nobody counts.

The cold case involves DNA evidence from a 1989 rape and murder, which is linked conclusively to Clayton Pell, a known predator with a long history of sex crimes. He’s served time for similar crimes, and he’s an entirely plausible suspect. Cased closed, right? A slam dunk. Only, Pell was just eight years old when the victim was slain. Something is amiss, and Harry won’t stop until he finds the true culprit.

Connelly weaves Bosch between these two cases with great skill, building momentum in both, and leading readers to a stunning climax, underlining once again that Connelly’s the master of the final gut-wrenching twist. The Drop is one of Harry Bosch’s finest hours.

ISBN: 9781925267297
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2015
Country of Publication: Australia

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: Blood Work by Michael Connelly

Blood WorkBLOOD WORK is one of Michael Connelly’s best.

Terry McCaleb is an ex-FBI profiler and recent recipient of a new heart. He is still recovering from the major surgery when the sister of the donor reveals she was killed in a convenience store hold-up. Her murder remains unsolved – the police have exhausted all their leads – and the sister wants McCaleb to investigate.

He does, driven by the enormous debt he owes the victim – and his immediate attraction to her sister. What follows is an immensely satisfying and convoluted tale, that twists and turns and excites with every chapter. Connelly leads readers in one direction, then slams on the brakes and takes another – and soon McCaleb finds himself the prime suspect in his own investigation, which coincides with renewed interest in the case from the LAPD and his ex-Federal colleagues.

Connelly never overplays McCaleb’s depleted physical condition. I wrongly assumed a scene would occur somewhere in the novel, probably towards its conclusion, where McCaleb’s new heart would begin to falter, but Connelly avoids this contrivance, and the novel is far better for it.

BLOOD WORK is the perfect introduction to Michael Connelly’s body of work. A standalone tale – McCaleb features in future novels, but not as the protagonist – that once again validates Connelly’s place as one of the greatest contemporary crime writers.

Review: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

Gods-of-Guilt-AUSThe Lincoln Lawyer – the first Mickey Haller novel – was a brave change of pace for Michael Connelly, who could’ve quite easily maintained his steady annual output of the Harry Bosch series. And what a stunning debut it was, followed-up by equally stellar instalments, all of which I’ve enjoyed, but none of which have quite matched Haller’s inaugural outing. The Gods of Guilt follows that trend – another finely executed legal thriller – but unable top the original. Still, if every attempt is going to be as good as this, I’m more than happy for Connelly to keep trying, and have little doubt in his ability to succeed, and indeed exceed my expectations.

I am not a fan of ‘legal thrillers.’ I think it’s perhaps related to the fact I once wanted to be a lawyer – before I realised the work involved in becoming one, and the sheer amount of jargon I’d have to memorize, and the reality hit home that I simply don’t possess the verbal eloquence necessary to sway a jury. Maybe I’m jaded. But Connelly won we over with The Lincoln Lawyer thanks to Mickey Haller’s character and circumstances; a lawyer who works out of the back of a Lincoln is just intriguing as its own concept; when you throw in the fact he’s Harry Bosch’s half-brother, well, you couldn’t keep me away. And after that initial taste I was hooked.

Connelly paints Haller as a real person who accepts the reality of his career as a defence attorney; he frequently represents the dregs of society, but understands that he plays a necessary function in the legal system. It’s cost him, though – we learn at the beginning of The Gods of Guilt that he’s estranged from his daughter, who has effectively ‘disowned’ him. His personal life is in a bad way. Enter a new client: a cyberpimp (yeah, that’s a real thing) accused of murdering a prostitute who happens to be one of Haller’s ex-clients (and, of course, one he was particularly close to). From here Connelly weaves a convoluted tale that quickly spotlights all the players and identifies them as good and bad. Don’t expect too many surprises here (although fear not, it’s not entirely perfunctory). This is less a whodunit or thriller and more an intriguing (and indeed illuminating) exploration of the mechanics of the legal system.

It’s the ending – that final dramatic beat before the epilogue – that feels unnecessary and could’ve perhaps done with a rethink. Connelly was obviously striving for a ‘shocking’ finale (or at the very least one final major twist) but it earned only a sigh from me, and was the only true blemish on an otherwise greatly satisfying read. Highly recommended. 4/5

Review: Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly

Chasing The diMEMediocre isn’t a term I’ve ever associated with Michael Connelly, who is unquestionably one of my favourite authors, whose Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller novels I hold in the highest regard. But CHASING THE DIME isn’t one of his best.

Henry Pierce is a computer entrepreneur who is days away from announcing a major breakthrough in nanotechnology. Henry is a workaholic – he spends his days and nights in the lab – and as a result he’s broken up with his girlfriend. CHASING THE DIME opens with Henry having just moved into a new apartment. His phone has just been connected and immediately he starts receiving calls from men asking for Lilly. We – like Henry – instantly connect the dots. Lilly is – was? – a call-girl. But what happened to her? Where has she gone? Pierce investigates, because Lilly’s lifestyle reminds him of his dead sister’s plight, many years ago – and what follows is a convoluted tail of deceit and murder, which ends with a cacophony of gunshots.

Henry isn’t a particularly endearing protagonist. He’s not especially likeable, but nor is he totally unlikable; he’s just not very interesting, which is even worse. The world he inhabits is similarly dull; Connelly, usually so adept at subtly feeding readers information, delves into the mechanics of nanotechnology a little tactlessly – some paragraphs feel like information dumps, and are included only to prove the author did his research. The plot is complex, but it’s formulaic, and character motivations ultimately seem unrealistic. It’s never a good sign when a reader can feel the author steering events to their conclusion.

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.