Review: The Overlook by Michael Connelly

13 February 2008

theoverlook.jpgHarry Bosch has been around a long time now, but doesn’t seem to change much. In The Black Echo (1992) when Michael Connelly first introduced him to us, we learned that Harry (Hieronymous) Bosch had been a Vietnam tunnel rat, that his prostitute mother was murdered and he had been institutionalised for most of his childhood, and that he has a lot of trouble with bullies, senior management and the FBI (although he does get close to several female agents). In other words, a typical man who goes down the mean streets but is not himself mean and operates by his own strict code.

In The Black Echo Harry is described like this:

Harry was not a big man. he stood a few inches short of six feet and was built lean. The newspapers, when they described him, called him wiry. Beneath the jumpsuit his muscles were like nylon cords, strength concealed by economy of size. The gray that flecked his hair was more partial to the left side. His eyes were brown-black and seldom betrayed emotion or intention.

By the time of The Overlook (2007), Harry looks at himself in the mirror and sees:

At 56 years old he was trim and fit and could even stand to add a few pounds while other detectives his age were getting round in the middle…The gray had not yet chased all of the brown out of his hair but it was getting close to victory. His dark eyes, though, were clear and bright and ready for the challenge awaiting him at the overlook.

In most of the eleven books in between, Harry doesn’t stray far geographically or morally, or in terms of behaviour. He has a number of partners, he gets offside with the brass and seems to be pulled off cases, suspended, fired, brought back, shot, and generally makes a nuisance of himself. But throughout the books, great plots and good writing use Harry’s attention to detail and ability to link information to bring us a one of the great crime series. Mind you, I don’t think I’d want to read too many of these books in one sitting – might get seriously affected by deja vu, since they do tend to follow a pattern.

In The Overlook, Harry Bosch is called out to a murder victim found at an overlook off Mulholland Drive. It turns out that the victim had access to lethal chemicals, which naturally brings in the Department of Homeland Security and their obsession with potential terrorism – if put in the water supply the chemical could do serious damage to Los Angeles. Among the Feds on the case is Rachel Walling, an old squeeze of Harry’s. Anyway, after the usual red herrings and wrong turnings Harry works out what really went down, pursues killer, gets shot, killer’s got, case closed.

The book ends with Harry musing:

But, Bosch thought, it didn’t really matter if you died cornered in a butcher shop or on an overlook glimpsing the lights of heaven. You were gone, and the finale wasn’t the part that mattered. We are all circling the drain, he thought. Some are closer to the black hole than others; some will see it coming, and some will have no clue when the undertow grabs them and pulls them down into darkness forever. The important thing is to fight it, Bosch told himself. Always keep kicking. Always keep fighting the undertow.

Well, long may Harry fight the undertow, and the killers, and the brass, and the Feds.

The Overlook by Michael Connelly; Orion paperback 2008; ISBN 13: 9780752882734; Wikipedia entry for Michael Connelly

Other books by Michael Connelly:

Harry Bosch –The Black Echo (1992), The Black Ice (1993), The Concrete Blonde (1994), The Last Coyote (1995), Trunk Music (1997), Angels Flight (1999), A Darkness More Than Night (2001), City Of Bones (2002), Lost Light (2003), The Narrows (2004), The Closers (2005), Echo Park (2006), Suitcase City (2008)

Other novels – The Poet (1996), Blood Work (1998), Void Moon (2000), Chasing the Dime (2002), The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)

Review: The Watchman by Robert Crais

30 January 2008

thewatchman.jpgRobert Crais has been writing excellent crime novels for twenty years now. Most of them have featured Elvis Cole and his sidekick, Joe Pike, a former cop, former marine and former mercenary who plays the really hard guy who often as not gets Elvis out of trouble and generally watches his back. But this book concentrates on Joe, and its Elvis who is the support player.

This story has Joe Pike returning a favour by taking on bodyguard duties for Larkin Barkley, a Paris Hilton-style heiress rich girl, who saw too much at a car accident and is now targeted, by someone. The action is about how Joe, with help from Elvis and others, decides to take the action to the pursuers, to find out who they are and why they are targeting Larkin. Needless to say there are plenty of plot twists, lots of shootings and bodies, and justice is done in the end without much recourse to the legal system. Also, the inevitable happens and Joe falls for the girl – well that was so predictable that it doesn’t really reveal anything you couldn’t have guessed up front.

The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to Joe Pike’s past as a boy growing up in a violent household, as a rookie cop (origin of the favour he’s returning in this book), as a Marine and as a mercenary – all of them violent. But Joe is not really mean, he has a code and he sticks to it. What I get out of this is that this book is intended as an explanation of Joe Pike and the kind of character that he is – the plot is simply the backdrop for Joe’s story. This means that the balance between biography and crime is tilting towards the former, possibly to the detriment of the book, but at least you’ll have a better awareness of what makes Joe tick when he appears in future Robert Crais novels.

As always, the writing is crisp, and we can accept the combination of forensics, street awareness, deduction and human understanding that keep driving the story forwards. The characteristic humour is there – not necessarily through Pike, who seems a bit bereft in that direction, but Elvis contributes his bit, as does criminalist John Chen.

The Watchman by Robert Crais, published by Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster), (2007), ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-6169-9, ISBN-10: 1-4165-6169-2

Other books by Robert Crais:

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike – The Monkey’s Raincoat (1987), Stalking the Angel (1989), Lullaby Town (1992), Free Fall (1993), Voodoo River (1995), Sunset Express (1996), Indigo Slam (1997), L.A. Requiem (1999), The Last Detective (2003), The Forgotten Man (2005)

Other – Demolition Angel (2000), Hostage (2001), The Two-Minute Rule (2006)

Review: Echo Park by Michael Connelly

5 August 2007

Michael Connelly gets better and better. This latest in the Harry Bosch series has a great plot, with lots of twists, plus a suitable set characters, many of whom we have met before. The action is driven by Bosch’s attachment to a case from 1993 that he couldn’t solve then, even when he thought he knew who his most likely suspect was. When a killer arrested on other charges offers to cough for the cold case in exchange for his life, and leads the police to the body, it looks like a slam dunk. But this takes us to only half way through the book so you know that its not quite that simple, especially when there’s a lot of politics involved.

A risk that a lot of series writers face is making sure that their books are not too formulaic and that their fascination with their character and his development (or lack of it) doesn’t take over the story. Many of those characteristics are here – cop partner loyalty, protagonist inability or unwillingness to address issues thus pushing away those who want to get close, uncooperative and bureaucratic police hierarchies, amazingly smart and well-read serial killers etc, etc – but they don’t get too much in the way. So provided you don’t get too frustrated with Bosch’s obsessions, he’s a good illustration of Chandler’s vision of the hero of crime fiction:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder, 1944