Echo Park, Michael Connelly

Little Brown, 2006, 405 pages, C$34.99 hc, ISBN 978-0-316-73495-0

When I started my Michael Connelly Reading Project a year ago (“One book per month, every month, until I’m done”), I did so hoping that Connelly would prove to be just as good as his reputation made him out to be. Despite a few uneven novels, this has been proven true so far, and never more so with Echo Park, which goes rummaging once again in Connelly’s favorite bag of trick and puts everything together in an engrossing, page-turning reading experience.

Not much has changed for Harry Bosch since the last novel: He’s still working with partner Kizmin Rider at the Open-Unsolved unit. Given Bosch’s dubious career-management skills and usual hostility toward authority figures, this already represents a minor miracle. But the comfortable balance is upset by the unexpected capture of a serial killer who confesses to more murders, including an unsolved case in Harry’s past. But what makes it worse this time around is the suggestion that Harry may have ignored a crucial clue –and ignored a suspect who went on to kill more victims. For someone of Harry’s nature, this revelation is almost too much to bear.

But his problems pile up even higher when a field expedition to a burial site goes wrong and the suspected killer escapes, seriously wounding a recurring character along the way. Paired up once again with FBI agent and ex-paramour Rachel Walling, Bosch has to fight his own worst instincts to unravel the usual web of past crimes, political interference and LAPD quirks. At first glance, there isn’t much to this novel: the tropes are familiar, the characters are familiar (boo, hiss, Irving) and there doesn’t seem to be anything to send the series in a new direction.

But the pleasure, as always, is in seeing Connelly put everything together with a deft hand. His style is just as compelling as it’s ever been, and his experience in presenting a complex back-story to the reader remains top-notch. It’s an even more impressive achievement considering that in lesser hands, this would have felt like a re-thread of well-worn quasi-clichés. Connelly even avoids tripping my usual distaste for serial-killer stories by neatly wrapping it it up in a bigger and more ruthless framework: Even the familiar political elements seem bigger and more repellent this time around. The conclusion may be as spectacularly nasty as some of Bosch’s previous investigations (along with the usual “Harry, we can never work together again” speeches), but it still feels like the right climax for this kind of story.

The one sub-plot that never completely works is the same one that never completely works in most of the other Bosch novels: The half-hearted attempts to pair Harry with someone else, this time (once again) with poor bland Rachel Walling, who never gets a chance to shine when she’s paired with Connelly’s best-known character.

Otherwise, Echo Park is another strong entry in the Connelly canon, made even more remarkable in how it re-uses the same elements and still makes it look fresh and fascinating. Not many authors can do that after seventeen novels (twelve of them featuring Harry), and that shows Connelly’s serious dedication to his craft and his readers. Go ahead, start your own Michael Connelly Reading Project: If you like even one of his novels, you’ll have trouble stopping before you’ve read them all.

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