Lost Light, Michael Connelly

Little Brown, 2003, 360 pages, C$36.95 hc, ISBN 0-316-15460-1

Many readers expected things to change with Michael Connelly’s newest Harry Bosch novel. Bosch, after all, resigned from the police force at the end of City of Bones, and having him investigate anything without official support would be a break from Connelly’s well-oiled police procedural mode. But Bosch fans may not be ready for a far more dramatic change: Having Harry narrate his newest investigation.

That’s right: For the first time, we get into Bosch’s head, and it may be a bit too close for comfort. It’s not the first time Connelly has shown us his best-known detective through another viewpoint: In A Darkness More than Night, Harry appeared filtered through the perception of another investigator and the result was a far scarier Bosch than usually portrayed by the sympathetic third-person narration.

But this first-person POV allows no distance between what Harry thinks and what he does, and the result is perhaps a bit too revealing. Bosch, after all, is a taciturn introvert. His thoughts and his actions often differ dramatically. Who would expect one of mystery fiction’s great tough guys to say:

“I am fifty-two years old and I believe it. At night when I try to sleep but can’t, that is when I know it. It is when all those pathways seem to connect and I see the people I have loved and hated and helped and hurt. I see the hands that reach for me. I hear the beat and see and understand what I must do. I know my mission and I know there is no turning away or turning back. And it is in those moments that I know there is no end of things in the heart.” [P.3]

But let’s give Harry a break: After all, he’s retired. At the beginning of Lost Light, he takes on a private investigation out of boredom and a sense of unfinished business. Years before, Harry investigated the murder of a young woman and never solved it: now he wants another crack at the case. But unsolved mysteries have a history of blossoming into complex and unpredictable adventures for Harry, and this case in no exception. Before long, we’ve touched upon the movie industry, money counterfeiting, covert video surveillance and that newest gadget in the mystery toolbox: homeland security.

Harry, of course, is working without official protection. He may bluff his way around like a veteran policeman, but he’s on thin ice and that never gets more obvious than when the FBI decides to rough him around after too many impertinent questions. From the guy who books criminals, Harry finds himself in a holding cell at a place that is barely officially acknowledged. He doesn’t appreciate the experience, and few things could have highlighted the added difficulties of operating without a badge.

As far as Connelly whodunits go, Lost Light is a capable entry in the Bosch series, ending with a spectacular shootout the likes of which we have rarely seen in the series. It does seem to suggest a transition of sorts for Harry, who may or may not go back to the uniformed life after a while on the civilian side. Bosch, as has been obvious since the first Connelly novel, distrusts authority but can’t operate outside a hierarchal structure. Add to that the difficulties in dealing with his ex-wife, and there’s still plenty of juice ahead for dramatic complications in Bosch’s life.

After the disappointing City of Bones, Lost Light feels like a better-controlled novel and welcome evolution in the Bosch saga. I’m not sure that the P.I. model is sustainable, but Connelly is able to play upon a few crucial differences in Bosch’s status as a retired cop and that brings an added layer of interest in this particular investigation. Harry as a narrator is a risky conceit, but the Michael Connelly Reading Project (“one book by month, until we’re done”) is proceeding apace. Who knows what surprises await Harry in the next novel?

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