Micheal Connelly, creator of 11 Harry Bosch novels, is out with Echo Park, which finds the detective, now nearing 60, in the Open-Unsolved Unit of the Los Angles Police Department. This time around Bosch, with his ox-like detective skills intact, has to match wits with a serial killer he has been hunting for 13 years. He has to also come to terms with his own guilt in letting the killer Raynard Waits slip past him and murder seven more women, all of them prostitutes and runaways.
Connelly, a former crime reporter with LA Times, has all through this remarkable series let Bosch age in real time from his early 40s. The detective, who first appeared in 1992’s The Black Echo is named after the famous 16th century painter Hieronymus Bosch and is unlike any other in modern crime fiction. The quality that endears the average reader to Bosch is not his stunning intelligence like say, Hercule Poirot, but his ability to plough against the odds. Add to this the devil-may-care attitude and courage bordering on recklessness, the combination is irresistible.
This recklessness costs Bosch his girl in this book. Rachel Walling, the FBI agent, who helps Bosch nail Waits finally leaves him saying she can’t live with someone she knows may not return home that night.
The murder Bosch is investigating is of Mary Gesto, which has haunted him for years. Her “murder book” sits on Bosch’s table where he keeps reading it in fear that he may have missed a clue. When the public prosecutor’s office calls him to confirm the confession of the serial killer Raynard Waits, Bosch has to come face to face with the man he dreads. Reynard means a male fox and he is caught near Echo Park while transporting the cut-up bodies of two dead women. He has confessed to nine murders in return for a lesser lifetime sentence that his lawyer is bargaining for.
Connelly is at his best writing the police procedural. Though his latest offering has enough political intrigue and legal drama, at the end it is the author’s intimate knowledge of flatfooted police work that is most attractive. As layer after layer of lies and deception peel off, the reader is left open mouthed with surprise and admiration.
Connelly unlike many masters of crime fiction isn’t insular to politics. That this thriller is set against the election of the public prosecutor of Los Angles gives the author ample chance to dabble in democracy. Often enough, Connelly’s books have also targetted the Los Angles Police Department. Echo Park is no different.
His unsentimental, straightforward narrative style has kept Connelly, a self-confessed admirer of the inimitable Raymond Chandler, at the forefront of American crime fiction. His books have been widely translated – 31 languages at last count – and continue to be bestsellers. He has also won the Edgar and Anthony awards.
Though Connelly has often charted outside the Bosch territory, most notably with The Poet in 1996, he keeps returning to the “true detective”. What attracts both author and reader to Bosch are the same qualities. Like his namesake, Bosch may be fighting the eternal darkness, but his uprightness keeps our faith in life alight and burning.