This was a chore, despite being one of the more competently written Michael Connelly books. If you enjoyed it, fabulous. Sincerely. (And if you like Connelly but haven’t tried it, there’s a good chance it’ll work for you–although reviews from my friends are mixed, so there’s also a chance you won’t. In other words, no guarantees). But I think this is where he and I part ways: I find him generally uninteresting, mildly irritating, and reading what seems to be a better example of his craft actually made the experience more disappointing. To push a metaphor, if a normal blood pH falls somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45, I spent most of the book at about a 7.31. Don’t understand? Feel vaguely annoyed?
The main character, ex-FBI agent Terry McCaleb, is recovering from a recent heart transplant when the donor’s sister approaches him to help solve the donor’s murder. Reluctantly–because he’s recovering from a heart transplant and his cardiac surgeon tells him it’s a terrible idea–he becomes involved and what follows is a fairly predictable police procedural. Though published in 1998, it feels more dated, say early 90s, and I found myself particularly distracted by the frequent mentions of Terry’s medical issues. I had to fight temptation to do some research and see what the state of cardiac transplant in the L.A. area would have been in this time period, because I have these suspicions that this isn’t it.*
I did manage to make it through a couple big chunks of the book, ignoring the medical issues, until I ran into other problems. One is that despite being told how brilliant Terry was as an agent (and we’re told this a lot), he essentially cracks a case by diving into the evidence and observing conflicting details. In other words, it’s the Encyclopedia Brown method of detection. Is that brilliance or persistence? In fact, there’s a couple moments where Terry is astonishingly stupid, particularly with risks to others. Second, as with many of Connelly’s works, this feels made-for-Hollywood, complete with a wildly awkward love relationship. Third, it eventually resorts to an annoying plot device that stalled me out again, partly because it (again) required Terry to make some TSTL decision-making. In fact, there’s a couple times I stopped because I couldn’t believe our ‘famous’ FBI detective was being so unprofessional and dismissive. What finally got me to finish was my ex (of the dubious choice in books) pushing it back on me, saying it takes another ‘really good turn.’
I did finish and I agree, there was a good turn that was genuinely surprising. Unfortunately, it also felt like the twist came out of left field, so while I appreciated it, I was equally cross about it. It’s the plot equivalent of having someone’s long-lost brother show up after they were mentioned once in the beginning of the book.
Make that pH of 7.29. Excuse me while I go find some sodium bicarbonate.
*In the afterward, Connelly thanks his friend who had a transplant in 1993 and shared so much of his story with him that it moved Connelly to write a story. This absolutely makes sense to me, and explains the wonky recovery timeline and the strangely specific but contradictory details (such as being careful to take and track his temperature twice a day but then regularly go all day without eating ‘until he was weak from hunger’). These are absolutely the kind of details a friend might remember later but may not put into very clear context of overall physical state.