Monday, August 26, 2013

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing with my summer detective fiction reading orgy, I decided to pick up on a series that had been urged on me by my husband for several years, Michael Connelly's Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch. The time finally seemed right for me to begin reading it.

Harry Bosch, as all the reading world except for me probably already knew, is a Los Angeles homicide cop. He is the typical maverick that all of these heroes of detective novels seem to be. He is described again and again by his superiors as "not a team player."

He may not always play by the rules but he has a strong sense of justice and he is absolutely dedicated to his own personal vision of policing.  

Again like most such detectives, we learn that Bosch has an interesting and troubled backstory. His early life was spent in foster homes and institutional care. He joined the army during the Vietnam War era and wound up in Vietnam as a "tunnel rat," assigned to go into the tunnels used by the Viet Cong, chase and kill them if possible and destroy the tunnels.

Back home in Los Angeles after his war experience, he joined the police force and rose through the ranks. As a detective, he has earned a reputation as a bender of rules, but he is a hero to the public, his name frequently associated with high profile police actions in the news. He has also been suspended for actions taken in pursuit of criminals and he is on the Internal Affairs Division's radar.

We meet Harry on a Sunday morning as he is waking up from a dream of those Vietnamese tunnels. His phone is ringing and he is called out to a scene of death where a body has been discovered in a drainage pipe near a dam. When Harry gets a chance to closely examine the body, he realizes that he knows the man - or knew him twenty years before. He was a fellow tunnel rat in Vietnam named Billy Meadows. Harry Bosch does not believe in coincidences.

As the story and Harry's investigation unfold, it becomes apparent that what was at first thought to be just another accidental drug overdose is actually something much more sinister than that. Meadows was murdered. But why?

Following the trail of evidence leads Harry to a bank robbery the year before where the robbers had tunneled underneath the bank to gain entry. It appears that Meadows may have been one of the robbers and that his murder may represent a falling out among thieves. All of this Harry learns once he backtracks on the investigation of that robbery to the FBI.

Through a convoluted set of circumstances Harry is teamed up with a female FBI agent to continue the investigation of the murder and its relationship to the bank robbery.

Harry manages to trace the informant who called in the information about the body of Meadows in the drain pipe and it is a young street kid who goes by the name Sharkey. After he and the FBI agent interview Sharkey, the young man also turns up dead in a drainage pipe. Again, Bosch observes that there are no coincidences.

Before he manages to get to the bottom of the case, there will be more deaths and more complications of his relationship with the FBI agent and with the LAPD, but you just know that in the end Harry Bosch will get there and his hero's cape will still be intact.

I think one of the tests of a good detective story is whether the detective in question is someone that you might be willing or even eager to spend some time with. Maybe someone that you would want to meet down at the pub and have a pint with, like John Rebus, or perhaps even invite over to your house for a meal, like Tom Barnaby or Armand Gamache. Harry Bosch meets that test for me. He seems like someone whose good opinion one would like to have, someone that you might like to have as a friend - even though friendship with such a prickly personality could be problematic. But, on the whole, Michael Connelly has created an attractive character in Harry Bosch and it is easy to understand the continuing success of the series.

I was engaged by the story throughout. The plotting, pacing, and character development were enough to keep me turning the pages and, even though the ending was not a surprise to me, I was interested to see just how Connelly was going to get there. It was a good start to what promises to be another popular series for my "to be read" list.



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