Warner, 2001, 470 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-66790-0
At first glance, A Darkness More Than Night looks like a piece of stunt writing, the kind of concept that afflicts writers in mid-career as they consolidate their back list and purchase a beach house: A glorious novel facing off one protagonist against another! Harry Bosch vs Terry McCaleb! A detective extravaganza, a criminal spectacle, now available for C$10.99!
Fortunately, there’s a lot more to it than simply a grand face-off between Connelly’s protagonists. A Darkness More Than Night ends up being one of the best examinations of Harry Bosch so far, as seen by a third party who also has our sympathies.
Terry McCaleb is, of course, the star of Blood Work, a previous Connelly novel that has also become a well-known film miscasting Clint Eastwood in the title role. (The written McCaleb may be a fragile heart transplant recipient, but he’s in his mid-forties at best.) As A Darkness More Than Night begins, his retirement is interrupted by an odd request from an old ex-colleague: Could he take a look at a bizarre unsolved case? Just a look, he’s promised, just his initial impressions…
Of course, it’s never so simple. McCaleb may be retired, but the instincts that made of him such a superb criminal profiler haven’t gone away, and tracking down the mysteries of the murder end up being one of his biggest thrills in years. Alas, all the clues soon point to a certain Harry Bosch, currently in the news as the star prosecution witness of a high-profile murder trial…
Soon enough, McCaleb and Bosch trade chapters in this two-ring circus of a crime novel. Has Bosch finally flipped out and killed a particularly troublesome criminal? Will McCaleb defy his wife, the police hierarchy and even the reader’s wishes in getting to the end of the case? As with most Connelly stories, there are less coincidences here than it may appear at first glance, and the pleasure of the novel isn’t in figuring out if Bosch did it at much as seeing Connelly tell the real story.
The big innovation here, of course, is seeing Bosch through the eyes of another character. McCaleb is more intelligent than Bosch, but not as smart. The two detectives have different styles, and using McCaleb’s power of intellectual detection against a street-savvy character like Bosch can provide illumination for both. Bosch, seen from the outside, is a far scarier man than we’re used to. We know enough about his past that the idea of him killing a suspect isn’t so far-fetched… and Connelly does his best to play on this ambiguity. McCaleb’s character also emerges from the novel as a stronger, more interesting character. Untied from the plot mechanics of Blood Work, he ends up being a formidable investigator on his own.
But as it happens, A Darkness More Than Night is more than the union of Blood Works with the rest of the Bosch story line: it ends up tying together all of the Connelly oeuvre so far: Connelly faithfuls will be rewarded by a secondary role for The Poet‘s Jack McEvoy and by a repeated wink to Void Moon‘s Thelma Kibble. The Connollyverse is in full formation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see all of those characters work together again at some point.
As usual, all of the qualities of Connelly’s fiction are to be found here: limpid prose, sympathetic characters, exceptional details, an excellent sense of Los Angeles’ fun-house perceptions and a twisty accumulation of revelations and counter-revelations.
After the slight side-step of Void Moon, it’s good to see Connelly tackle another full-blown police procedural with such style and panache. The idea of using a character to investigate another proves to be a very clever idea and a triumphant return to form for Connelly. Meanwhile, my Michael Connelly Reading project continues, and there’s still not a bad book in the series so far.