The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

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Reading the new Michael Connelly Harry Bosch/Renee Ballard detective procedural, The Night Fire (Little Brown, 416 pp., $29), you’d have to be a good detective to know that Bosch is a Vietnam War veteran. This is Connelly’s 32nd detective procedural, the 22nd featuring Harry Bosch. I’ve been a big fan since I read the first one, the brilliant Black Echo, in 1992, and have devoured (and reviewed) every one of them. Before this, each Bosch book included details of Harry’s service in the war (he was a tunnel rat) and its impact on his mercurial law-enforcement career.

In some of the books Connelly offered but a few sentences here and there about Harry and the Vietnam War. In others, including The Black Echo, there was much more. This time the word “Vietnam” is not mentioned. Late in the book, Harry tells Ballard that he served in the Army—but that’s it.

Which is fine, although a tad disappointing because in my view Harry Bosch (along with James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux) is by far the best-drawn fictional Nam vet detective out there. And it’s always a good thing to encounter admirable Vietnam War veterans in fiction. Harry is street-smart, dedicated, courageous, and stubborn. He’s also brusque and often cranky and doesn’t easily suffer fools, frauds, or criminals. He regularly gets into deep trouble at the office and often runs into life-threatening situations on cases.

In The Night Fire, Bosh and Ballard—both of whom are dedicated, driven, high-maintenance detectives (he’s retired from LAPD and working part time; she’s active duty) —work on two different cases alone and together. As usual, Connelly tells a tale with red herrings galore and more than a few plot twists—sometimes a bit too many. But Connelly’s a master at spinning an exciting yarn that gets more exciting as it goes along and he does exactly that in this book.

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As always, Connelly creates fully flushed-out characters, especially Bosch and Ballard. And, in the end—well, no spoilers here. I will say that Connelly offers some veiled references to what might come next in Bosch’s life, mostly dealing with age-related physical problems.

My advice: Read this excellent detective novel and follow the clues to find out for yourself whodunit, how the detectives figured it out, and what might become of Harry Bosch.

–Marc Leepson

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

111111111111111111111111111“The detective Harry Bosch helps a small police department track a serial rapist, while as a P.I. he aids a billionaire in search of a possible heir.”

That’s how The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list describes the book that sits at number nine this week: Michael Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Little, Brown, 394 pp., $29). That high-concept sentence is accurate, but doesn’t even begin to approach the detective-genre artistry Connelly once again exhibits in his nineteenth Harry Bosch cop procedural featuring the eponymous, not-quite-retired LAPD detective who served as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War.

As he has in all the Bosch books-–beginning with The Black Echo in 1992—Connelly spins out a page-turner with vivid characters, a twisting plot, and evocative depictions of Harry’s home turf: the greater Los Angeles area. This book also has a significant Vietnam War theme in that the search for the billionaire’s “possible heir” leads Harry to a young Navy corpsman who died in a helicopter crash in 1970 in Vietnam. Harry’s service in the war comes up in the course of his investigation and he has a flashback or two to his two memorable tours of duty.

The book, in fact, opens with a flashback of sorts, to a very convincing evocation of an extraction of a group of Marines from a hot LZ. It doesn’t end well. Connelly then moves right into his two-pronged story in which Harry, who is working a volunteer investigator job for the little City of San Fernando, also takes on a free-lance assignment directly from an ailing, aging billionaire.

Both stories take unexpected twists. Harry runs into situations and roadblocks that he seems to face in every book. He has to deal with a cranky police supervisor who is out to get him. He tends to bend the rules to get what he needs to bring a bad person to justice. He uses his brain power and decades of experience to figure out the identity of an arch-evil bad guy (the serial rapist). He displays physical courage. He suffers emotionally when good cops (and civilians) are harmed. And he won’t rest until he brings the culprits to justice.

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It all adds up to a greatly entertaining read that stands with the best of the Bosch’s—and the best Bosch’s are terrific books.

There are two minor missteps relating to the Vietnam War that I will mention only because they will not ring true to Marines or to any Vietnam War veteran who took an R&R. Connelly more than once refers to Marines as “soldiers,” and calls R&R “leave.”

Here’s hoping the publisher fixes those little errors for future printings. If that happens, this will be a perfect Harry Bosch.

—Marc Leepson

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

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It’s been a year since Michael Connelly‘s nineteenth Harry Bosch detective procedural, The Burning Roomcame out. I’ve been a giant fan of Connelly and his Bosch novels since the first one, Black Echo, burst on the scene in 1992, getting great reviews and garnering big-time sales.

It’s always a special treat to read these fast-paced, cleverly plotted thrillers featuring Vietnam veteran Harry Bosch, the iconoclastic LAPD homicide detective who had a rough childhood and who served as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War. Bosch’s service in the war is a theme in several of the books, and gets mentioned often in others. Lately, as Bosch has reached retirement age, his war service is only touched upon. And that’s as it should be.

In The Crossing (Little Brown, 400 pp., $28), which came out early in November and became a No. 1 bestseller, the war is mentioned only once. It comes when Harry is contemplating his worth as a father (something he does often). He ruminates on the fact that he’d never taken his teenaged daughter camping. “He had never been taken camping,” Connelly writes, “unless his time sleeping in tents and holes in Vietnam counted.”

While Harry’s Vietnam War service is not central to the book, Harry Bosch certainly is. His good and not-so-good traits that we have come to know over the years are on full display. On the good side: He is a relentless seeker of justice for those who have been murdered or harmed by criminals. He is a smart, brilliant, hard-driving crime solver. He has little use for ticket-punching, self-serving LAPD bureaucrats and politicians. He is a dedicated, if oftentimes baffled, single father of a teenaged girl. He is a survivor who skillfully has come through more than his share of post-war violent confrontations with criminals.

On the not-so-good side: His relentlessness often leads to serious rule-breaking. His disgust with the LAPD lifers often leads him into personal trouble–and trouble for the cops he works with. And lately, he makes a few crucial mistakes as he goes about his crime-solving.

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In The Crossing—which I happily just binge-read—Bosch has just retired and reluctantly takes a temporary job with his half brother, Mickey Haller. He’s the flamboyant “Lincoln Lawyer,” who loves taking on difficult cases–and craves the media spotlight.

Haller’s representing a former gang member who is in jail for horribly raping and murdering a woman. The evidence looks extremely solid. Haller doesn’t care; he believes the guy is innocent and is ready to use any legal technicality to help his case. Bosch does care—and only agrees to investigate the case after he’s convinced the client is innocent.

Connelly spins out his usual convoluted but extremely clever plot flawlessly. Even though you know who the bad guys are early on, the pages still keep turning as Connelly puts one roadblock after another in front of Harry and things get exciting and tense as the book moves toward its inevitable violent conclusion.

If you like rapid reading police procedures that are a cut above in literary merit, you can’t go wrong with The Crossing–or any of the Harry Bosch books.

—Marc Leepson

 

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but my two absolute favorite detective fiction series feature main characters who are Vietnam War veterans. That would be Dave Robicheaux, the flawed Cajun detective hero of twenty smashingly good procedural/thrillers by James Lee Burke, and Harry Bosch, the complicated Los Angeles Police Department detective at the center of nineteen thriller/detectives by former L.A.Times police reporter Michael Connelly.

Which brings us to Connelly’s latest, just-published Harry Bosch, The Burning Room (Little, Brown, 388 pp., $28). It’s been two years since the last Bosch, The Black Box (Little Brown, 416 pp., $27.99). I was more than ready for the latest installment in the adventures of the smart and dedicated—but sometimes ornery and emotionally fragile—former Vietnam War tunnel rat, now nearing retirement working in the LAPD cold-case division.

I devoured the rapid-reading Burning Room as I had its eighteen predecessors. Once again I was impressed by Connelly’s story-telling abilities. The plot hummed along with plenty of twists (maybe one or two too many). The characters were well drawn and believable. The physical landscape of the greater Los Angeles area sketched vividly and convincingly.

The plot follows Connelly’s main Bosch formula: working with a new partner, Harry uses his brains and experience (and stretches legal limits a tad) to solve a perplexing crime. There are plenty of roadblocks, including the fact that the case is ten years old and it leads him to a related, second heinous crime to investigate. Harry runs into trouble from self-serving bureaucratic higher-ups and has to juggle work vs. family responsibilities, namely being the single father of a high-school-age daughter.

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This is a police procedural with thriller elements, so we more or less know who the bad guys are fairly quickly. But that doesn’t hamper the page-turning quotient. Connelly keeps things moving quickly to a conclusion that including a surprise element.

Bosch’s service in the Vietnam War plays a very small part in the book. The first mention doesn’t come until about a third of the way in.

He’s discussing interrogation techniques with his young partner, whose grandfather (!) served in Vietnam. The topic of “enhanced” methods and “tools of interrogation,” Connelly writes, “threatened to trigger Bosch’s own memories and he didn’t need that now. He brought the discussion back on point.”

Later, Bosch comes across a Vietnam War-era M60 machine gun. “Those who carried the M60 through the Vietnamese jungle had a love/hate relationship with it,” Connelly writes through Bosch’s eyes. “They called it ‘the pig’ whenever they had to lug the heavy weapon out on patrol. But heavy or not, it was the best gun to be holding in your hands in a firefight.”

As usual, Connelly, who was in middle school during the height of the Vietnam War, does very well in the accuracy and verisimilitude departments when dealing with the Vietnam War and Harry’s service in it.

Connelly’s website is www.michaelconnelly.com/novels/burning-room

—Marc Leepson

The Black Box by Michael Connelly

Twenty years ago, I opened the pages of a first novel by a young former Los Angeles Times police reporter about a quirky, troubled L.A. homicide detective: The Black Echo by Michael Connelly. I was extremely impressed by Connelly’s taut writing, his careening, clever plot, and by the detective himself, Harry Bosch, a former Vietnam War tunnel rat.  Bosch came alive for me in all of his complexity; he was emotionally troubled by his war experiences, but was a strong, smart detective who did not rest until he solved a heinous murder.

In the intervening twenty years Connelly has written eighteen Harry Bosch detective procedurals. I’ve enjoyed reading every one of them, including the latest, The Black Box (Little Brown, 416 pp., $27.99).  This one started out slowly for me, but Connelly pushed the accelerator to the floor after a hundred pages or so, and I once again I found myself deeply drawn into a fast-paced, riveting novel with a twisting plot and believable, well-drawn characters.

Connelly includes many of the elements in the new book that he has used to great effect in the other Harry Bosch novels, including the previous one, The Drop, which came out a year ago. In Black Box, Harry—as always—is obsessed with solving a case. In this case it’s the twenty-year-old murder of a young Danish female photojournalist who was shot and killed in L.A. during the 1992 riots.

As usual, in his single-minded quest to solve this cold case, Harry Bosch butts heads with a slime-ball, ticket-punching superior in the police department. Also, as per usual, he bullheadedly steps over the procedural line more than once, jeopardizing both the case and his checkered career. He also faces a boatload of angst-induced personal problems, including daily frustrations with his head-strong teenaged daughter, and a less-than-satisfactory relationship with his putative girlfriend.

All the while, Bosch uses his brains and experience to unravel a complicated murder plot that goes back to the first Persian Gulf War. It spoils nothing to report that the bad guys get theirs in the end. The meat of the book is how Connelly gets Bosch to the final, bloody confrontation with the perps.

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Along the way there are periodic references to Bosch’s time in Vietnam. The veteran detective is not obsessed by what happened to him in the war, but his experiences in 1969-70 remain an integral part of his life.

“His was a war of mud and blood and confusion,” Connelly writes as he describes Bosch looking at photographs the dead Danish journalist took in the first Persian Gulf War.

He “saw up close the people they killed, that he killed. Some of those memories were as crystal clear to him as the photographs now on his screen. They mostly came to him at night when he couldn’t sleep or unexpectedly when some everyday image conjured a somehow connected image from the jungles or tunnels where he had been.

“He knew war up close and [the dead journalist’s] words and pictures struck him as the closest he had ever seen it through a journalist’s eyes.”

Once again, in The Black Box (the title refers to Bosch’s quest to find the equivalent of a crashed airplane’s black box) Michael Connelly give us a page-turning detective that is several cuts above your average genre novel.

Connelley’s website is www.michaelconnelly.com/novels/theblackbox

—Marc Leepson

The Drop by Michael Connelly

I have been a big, big fan of Michael Connelly’s best-selling Harry Bosch detective procedural novels since the first one, the Edgar-Award-winning The Black Echo, burst on the scene in 1992. Bosch is an LAPD detective whose service as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War is never far from his consciousness. That’s especially true in The Black Echo, in which Bosch finds the body of a war buddy in a storm drain and spends too much time underground dealing with present-day criminals and war-time demons.

There are fewer flashbacks and references to Bosch’s Vietnam War tour of duty in the subsequent books. But the war nevertheless is a part of Harry Bosch. Connelly, a former Los Angeles Times police reporter, always includes at least one or two mentions of Bosch’s tunnel rat days in each of the compulsively readable Bosch novels, which he also fills with clever plot twists as Bosch uses his brains and experience to ferret out murderers and other bad people. The novels all contain dark moments for Bosch and those near and dear to him. He always prevails, but often at great personal and psychic cost.

In the latest, The Drop (Little Brown, 388 pp., $27.99), Connelly is at the top of his game. The writing is crisp. The words and actions flow. The plots—there are two main ones—are believable and compelling. Bosch is at the center in all of his conflicted glory. He’s grumpy but kind; he’s a rule breaker but an ethical straight shooter; he loves the company of women but specializes in disastrous relationships with the opposite sex. And he is one hell of a murder detective.

The plots involve a cold-case murder of a young woman and the death of the son of a Los Angeles City Councilman. Bosch faces his usual hurdles with politically motivated superiors, some less-than-sterling cops, and a handful of ruthless evildoers.

His war experiences come into play only twice, and only briefly. But both are telling. In one scene, involving a woman he is dating, he undergoes a strong sense memory of rotting fish from his tunnel rat days. In the other he has a flashback to the tunnels after making a gruesome discovery as he’s investigating a mass murderer/child molester.

Bosch “closed his eyes and remembered another time when he was in a place of death,” Connelly writes, “huddled in a tunnel and far from home. He was really just a boy then and he was scared and trying to control his breathing. That was the key. Control your breathing.”

If you want a gritty, entertaining, rapid-reading detective novel, you cannot go wrong with The Drop—or, for that matter with any of the other sixteen Harry Bosch novels, going back to The Black Echo.

—Marc Leepson