Friday, November 25, 2016

Why Michael Connelly is so great (again)

Harry Bosch is back and he's still detecting in The Wrong Side of Goodbye.

Bosch, as mystery lovers know, is the Los Angeles-based police detective created by Michael Connelly. I've written about Connelly in the past and what I admire about his novels, so in this review I may repeat myself. Very well. I repeat myself.

First, Connelly is able to stay within the point of view of Bosch throughout the book. We readers see and hear what Harry sees and hears. We don't jump into the heads, or points of view, of other characters, most notably the villain's.

Connelly convinces me that the places he describes are as he describes them. The streets are real, the neighborhoods look as he says, the public buildings are just as he writes.

In the course of an investigation, Bosch by necessity meets and works with a couple dozen other characters. Connelly is able somehow (magically?) to make each of those characters individual. I am tempted to re-read the book with a highlighter to try to spot the sentences, the dialogue, the actions that bring all those characters alive on the page.

Finally, the mechanics of the investigation seem to me to be exactly right. Some leads work, some are dead ends or brick walls. Bosch is able to bring memory and experience to what he learns and thereby to put new information into a context. For example, as a Vietnam vet himself, Bosch is able to understand what civilian clothes in a dead Vietnam vet's effects implies.

This last point is important to me because I believe that a Connelly novel actually teaches me something about the world and the way real people live in it. This is what a police detective is able to do, is not able to do, and is able to do but, if he does it, will have consequences.

I haven't said anything about The Wrong Side of Goodbye, so here it is: Bosch, having been removed from the LAPD for cause (and the action in an earlier novel), is working as an unpaid investigator for a small, independent police department that has been hit with budget cutbacks and has a pile of cold cases that need work. Bosch is glad to have a badge and something to do and is working on serial rape case.

But the book's inciting incident is a $10,000 invitation to visit a reclusive, elderly billionaire who wants Bosch to discover whether he has an heir. The money is to induce Bosch to visit the estate and hear the man's story. Bosch takes the challenge.

So, The Wrong Side of Goodbye tells two stories simultaneously, the rape investigation and the hunt for a possible heir. I suspect a less skillful writer, in an effort to be clever, would at the book's end reveal how the one investigation connects with the other. Connelly doesn't do that. The only connection between the stories is Bosch, so the reader gets two intriguing stories for the price of one in another exceptionally satisfying mystery.

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