First impressions can be so deceptive. Well, actually, first, second and third impressions, but who’s judging? Me. Totally me.
Still on the search for a new mystery series, and Michael Connelly’s name keeps coming up, mainly because I always misspell John Connolly. John’s writing is frequently lyrical and equally brutal, so there’s only so much I can take. Perhaps the American Michael will be less demanding? Why, yes, he is. How much less demanding? Well, take this little sample from early on in Harry Bosch’s murder investigation:
“He became restless. He looked down into the green glass ashtray and saw that all the butts were unfiltered Camels. Was that Meadow’s brand or his killer’s? He got up and walked around the room. The faint smell of urine hit him again. He walked back into the bedroom. He opened the drawers of the bureau and stared at their contents once more. Nothing turned in his mind. He went to the window and looked out at the back end of another apartment building across an alley. There was a man with a supermarket cart in the alley. He was poking through a Dumpster with a stick. The car was half full of aluminum cans. Bosch walked away and sat down on the bed and put his head back against the wall where the headboard should have been and the white paint was a dingy gray. The wall felt cool against his back.”
Speechless. Mrs. Meunch, my ninth grade Advanced English teacher, would have emptied her pen of red ink had I turned in that paragraph. Dull, repetitive, uninteresting construction and description, as well as virtually meaningless in plot advancement. But here’s where first impressions mislead: given that Connelly worked as a journalist, I didn’t think his writing skills were that limited on purpose, and a sample chapter at the end of this book for his series starring a lawyer provided proof of a more sophisticated style. I suspect he was trying to echo both the staccato noir voice, as well as the neutral, progressive statements one might find in a police or medical report, that are supposed to be how things ‘are’ instead of with interpretation. It probably doesn’t hurt that the style might also appeal to the mass market in digestibility.
That said, it ended up being an entertaining read. Connelly can’t help himself, and as the investigation heats up, the language becomes more complex to handle the demands of perception and action. It ended up pulling me through the dusty Dr. Seuss language into a complex web of conflict between Harry Bosch, his current supervisor, Internal Affairs, the FBI and a hidden killer. Although I felt sure some of the situations introduced were red herrings–and boy, was Bosch downright stupid a couple of times–I wasn’t sure of where it would end up. I liked that there was some unpredictability, as so few mass-market books actually surprise me.
The book shows it’s age, particularly the lack of cell phones, with the time period reliance on pagers and pay phones. Harry was always trying to get someone to run something on a computer for him (!) and everyone was bitching about typewritten reports and the proportion of typewriters to detectives. However, that may be an appeal for some readers. I’m thinking it’d be worth giving to my dad, former cop and Vietnam vet, who still hasn’t used a cell phone and only adopted an answering machine with technological support from friends.
Overall, while Harry Bosch is no Matt Scudder, I’d say it’s not a bad series to break up my fantasy and sci-fi reads. We’ll see if it follows the Spencer pattern of going downhill once Connelly achieves mass-market success.
A solid three and a half stars.