Quick Review: FAIR WARNING by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown/Orion)

ConnellyM-JM3-FairWarningUSThe hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow is back…

Jack McEvoy, the journalist who never backs down, tracks a serial killer who has been operating completely under the radar — until now.

Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy has taken down killers before, but when a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered in a particularly brutal way, McEvoy realizes he might be facing a criminal mind unlike any he’s ever encountered.

Jack investigates — against the warnings of the police and his own editor — and makes a shocking discovery that connects the crime to other mysterious deaths across the country. Undetected by law enforcement, a vicious killer has been hunting women, using genetic data to select and stalk his targets.

Uncovering the murkiest corners of the dark web, Jack races to find and protect the last source who can lead him to his quarry. But the killer has already chosen his next target, and he’s ready to strike.

Jack McEvoy returns! He’s at a new online publication, with new colleagues, but has the same determined drive to uncover the truth. He also retains his slightly flexible approach to the rules and ethics of journalism. Fair Warning is another excellent novel from the master of the craft. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Jack McEvoy is one of the characters in Connelly’s larger “Boschverse”, alongside Detective Harry Bosch, lawyer Mickey Haller, and newcomer Detective Renée Ballard. He has popped up in a number of Connelly’s novels as a bit-player or peripheral concern, but Fair Warning is his third solo outing. As in his previous two novels — The Poet and The Scarecrow — McEvoy ends up on the trail of a serial killer and, through his own dogged investigating, ends up on the killers radar.

It’s through a series of strange, seemingly unrelated events that McEvoy discovers the possible existence of a serial killer — one who has discovered a method for dispatching his victims that is often, easily mistaken for various forms of accidental death. Specifically, and most alarming and stressful for McEvoy, is the fact that he had a very brief relationship with the most recent victim. As someone in her contacts, the LAPD’s spotlight lands on him and, because of his general demeanour, they place him firmly on the Suspect List.

Warned to leave it alone, and allow the cops’ investigation to unfold properly, he nevertheless can’t — because of his hurt pride at being accused, but also because the victim(s) deserve justice. Just as cops think journalists get in the way, so too does McEvoy think the cops are getting in his way (as well as their own — he does not like one of the cops on the case).

ConnellyM-JM3-FairWarningUKHis own investigation and curiosity sets McEvoy on a dangerous collision course with the killer. He first uncovers a series of other potential victims and then, maybe, stumbles across the means by which they are selected.

As a protagonist, McEvoy also presents some interesting opportunities and differences for the author and readers, many of which are not available to Connelly’s other characters — his First Amendment protections as a journalist, for example, as well as his looser freedom of movement outside the bounds of law enforcement. This gives McEvoy some different tactics for pursuing his investigation, while simultaneously presenting certain challenges that cops and lawyers don’t have to worry about — for example, a lack of access to official databases, subpoenas, warrants, and so forth.

Like Connelly’s other characters, McEvoy is very confident in his own abilities, but it often borders on arrogance (of all of Connelly’s protagonists, I imagine McEvoy is one you love to read about, but probably won’t enjoy knowing in real life as much as Bosch, Haller, or Ballard). He is quite cavalier about his own safety and (accidentally one hopes) that of his colleagues and collaborators. His ego easily bruised and he is suspicious of anyone else who might be trying to steal his scoops. Luckily, he’s not oblivious to this side of his character, and he notices when he’s being an ass to his colleagues and does try to make amends.

I realized all three of them were right and that I had just come off rather badly, putting the story ahead of the safety of dozens of women. I saw the disappointment in both Rachel’s and Emily’s eyes.

As is to be expected from Connelly’s novels, Fair Warning is very much grounded in the now. (Well, the pre-COVID-19 now, anyway.) In particular, this novel examines the extent to which people’s privacy is violated, intruded upon and/or exploited by businesses and services (online and real-world), in part as a result of the ever-more expansive amounts of personal information they collect and we sometimes give willingly. I won’t go into any more detail about the plot, because it’s pretty ingenious, and also rather troubling on so many levels. Needless to say, it’s a fast-paced, gripping mystery that had me hooked from the get-go.

If you are a fan of Connelly’s writing, and of course Jack McEvoy in particular, then I think you will enjoy this novel. A superb author, I can’t recommend his books highly enough. A must read.

*

Michael Connelly’s Fair Warning is out now, published by Little, Brown in North America and Orion Books in the UK.

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