A new convert gushes (though not in excess)…
LAPD detective Harry Bosch is a loner and a nighthawk. One Sunday he gets a call-out on his pager. A body has been found in a drainage tunnel off Mulholland Drive, Hollywood. At first sight, it looks like a routine drugs overdose case, but the one new puncture wound amid the scars of old tracks leaves Bosch unconvinced.
To make matters worse, Harry Bosch recognises the victim. Billy Meadows was a fellow ‘tunnel rat’ in Vietnam, running against the VC and the fear they all used to call the Black Echo. Bosch believes he let down Billy Meadows once before, so now he is determined to bring the killer to justice.
Above is the synopsis for the first Harry Bosch novel, first published in 19??. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Connelly’s bestselling series — I love the crime genre, novels set in Los Angeles, and pretty much everyone I know raves about the books. Last year, I read and enjoyed Crime Beat, the author’s book about writing and a collection of Connelly’s crime reporting, and also Mulholland Drive (a collection of three short stories). Not so long ago, I also read Connelly’s first novel starring his newest protagonist, Renée Ballard (The Late Show). After then binge-watching the superb Bosch television series, I decided it was well past time to read the author’s most famous series. And I am so very happy that I’ve started down this road.
“The first two books aren’t the best,” I was told. Having read beyond the first two novels, I have to agree. However, I also really enjoyed The Black Echo and The Black Ice. For the first two novels in a series, in addition to being very well written, they are really interesting. Connelly’s novels are more procedural than many of the other mega-sellers that I’m familiar with (thinking about Patterson, Sandford, et al), with a greater focus on the investigation and Bosch’s pounding the pavement in his quest to uncover the truth. We learn a lot about Bosch, as well as his co-stars and antagonists.
I was surprised that Connelly takes Bosch out of Los Angeles in The Black Ice. That may seem like a weird observation, but often I’ve found that crime series only venture out of the protagonist’s ‘beat’ in later instalments — as a way to refresh the character, or maybe when a setting is starting to feel played out. This is not the case with the Bosch series, as has been proven in later novels. As Bosch’s investigation into a new drug and its possible connection to a couple of murders back in LA takes him just across the border into Mexico, where he must navigate a completely different set of rules. In these first two novels, Connelly does an excellent job of establishing Bosch and the ‘rules’ of the series and Bosch’s world.
True for all four of these novels, I really liked that the stories are told from Bosch’s perspective almost exclusively. It gives the novels a coherence and intimacy that might be lacking in a series that hops between POVs. (This is something Sandford does really well, too.) Connelly does such a good job with Bosch’s character — he’s an excellent guide to not only the police work but also Los Angeles.
The Concrete Blonde exhibits a noticeable levelling-up in writing and plotting. The novel is tighter and quicker paced (without being at all rushed). It is a great story about the case that made Bosch a minor celebrity in Los Angeles — a crime that is referenced a couple of times in the first two books. Bosch is on trial for his actions, as a surviving wife sues him for damages. Meanwhile, more murders that bear the same signature as the infamous “Dollmaker” killer are appearing. Bosch splits his focus, navigating a determined, ruthless prosecutor and also this new investigation. The ending I didn’t see coming, and was executed magnificently.
The Last Coyote has a more-gradual ramping up of momentum, and ultimately pays off brilliantly (and tragically). Harry is on administrative leave, following an altercation with his immediate superior Pounds. While also attending therapy sessions, Bosch decides to look into the murder of his mother — something that has been mentioned in the first three novels as one of his (if not the primary) motivating force behind his joining the police to begin with. The novel’s first few chapters felt a bit jarring — Harry seemed much angrier with everyone than he should have been, based on the character established in the first three books. His early reaction to Edgar, his partner, felt especially vicious. One thing that Connelly managed very well in this novel was Bosch’s mental state — it changes over the course of the story, as he makes progress through the therapy, while also being influenced by his investigation.
The third and fourth books are perfect examples of Connelly’s tricksy approach to plotting — the switcheroos towards the end, in both, is apparently a signature Connelly tactic, and one he does very well. (It also appears, in a smaller sense, in Mulholland Drive.)
Los Angeles is as much a character in the novels as Bosch, Pounds, Irving, Edgar, and others. Connelly clearly loves the city, while not being blind to its inconsistencies, paradoxes, faults and apparent cruelties. His descriptions and explanations of the city and those who inhabit it are superb throughout — evocative and honest. [As a side note, I was particularly thankful for Connelly’s aversion to simile and metaphor. It makes for a very tight, focused storytelling, and showcases his gift for description, atmosphere and scene-setting.]
There are some who, no doubt, will find the idea of a lone wolf, anti-establishment male cop protagonist tired and played out. I suppose that’s fair — it is becoming something of a cliché in the genre. Bosch, however, is such a good character. Connelly is such a good writer that any issues you might have with this character type will, I believe, be blown away by the quality of the storytelling. I do hope, however, that Bosch’s issues with IAD don’t overshadow the investigations in later novels in the series.
If you haven’t yet tried Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, then I highly recommend that you give it a try. Connelly’s writing is superb and sparse, his stories focused and gripping. Each of these novels kept me up well into the night, as I was unwilling to stop reading and had to find out what happened. I am definitely a new convert, and Connelly has shot into my Top 5 Favourite Authors rank. The author’s next novel, Dark Sacred Night, joins Bosch and Ballard, so I hope to get caught up as soon as possible.
A must read for all fans of crime and mystery fiction. Absolutely superb. I’m hooked.
Also on CR: Review of The Late Show