The Overlook, Michael Connelly

Little Brown, 2007, 225 pages, C$27.50 hc, ISBN 978-0-316-01895-1

And so my Michael Connelly Reading Project ends, after slightly more than a year of monthly Connelly novels, reaching back from Connelly’s first novel in 1992 to this latest offering. While I’m sure that there will be more Connelly novels in my future, this particular binge ends with a bang of a different sort —with Connelly’s leanest crime thriller yet.

Merely half as long as the author’s other novels, The Overlook was initially serialized in the New York Times Magazine. In many ways, it’s a typical Connelly novel: It’s a Harry Bosch police procedural, firmly set in Los Angeles, involving a dead body and a tangled mystery. When the victim is discovered to have access to radioactive material, the case spirals out of the LAPD’s control and forces Harry to collaborate once again with FBI agent (and ex-lover) Rachel Walling. Homeland Security has been a part of the Connellyverse since Lost Light, but the stakes here feel more urgent and considerably more direct. The added clash between Harry, who considers this a police investigation, and Rachel, who sees it as a matter of national security, brings the usual jurisdictional conflict we’ve come to expect from the Bosch series.

But the serial origins of the novel give it an urgency that’s been missing from many recent Connelly novels: it’s crisp, takes place within a single day and doesn’t necessarily sacrifice the qualities we’ve come to expect from the author’s work. Its short length is even structurally ironic when it show what happens when Harry’s street-cop instincts are right and the case isn’t as complicated as everyone else thinks it is.

In short, it’s a refreshing return to the basics of police procedurals for Connelly, who looks positively sprightly compared to some of his contemporaries. The story moves, and considering how seldom Connelly’s regular novels waste time, you can imagine the impact of this one.

The flip-side of this short and efficient entry is that it features very little development in the Bosch series. Harry’s got a bit of trouble with his newest partner, and poor Rachel Walling once again finds herself handled as a plot device to allow Harry some contact with a case that otherwise would be yanked out of his hands. That’s pretty much it: it’s a minor entry in Harry’s adventures, giving us a glimpse into what would happen if Connelly went the laconic Robert B. Parker route of giving his readers the strict minimum of what’s expected from him.

It goes without saying that collectors and library patrons will be the ones least dissatisfied by the price/page ratio of this entry: The hardcover edition is grossly overpriced for cost-sensitive readers, and even the paperback look awfully thin when placed alongside its other Connelly siblings.

On the other other hand, The Overlook (true to its serial origins) is the best entry point in the Bosch series in a long time: it doesn’t require any deep knowledge of Harry’s adventures so far, does a good job at teasing new fans with the strengths of Connelly’s writing, and is short enough to hook readers without much of a time investment.

So it’s ironic that this public-friendly entry would mark the end of my formal Michael Connelly Reading Project. The best thing I can say about my experience over the past year-and-a-bit is that it’s been just as good as I’ve hoped for: Connelly is among the best crime writers out there, and even his weaker novels (Chasing the Dime, City of Bones) are still a head above most other thrillers out there. He’s done interesting things to keeping Bosch’s character evolving while guarding his series’ strength against radical changes. If you call yourself a fan of criminal thrillers and haven’t read Connelly yet, well, there are still a few good books in your future.

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