“Out of the Blue and into the Black”

10:17 PM 29 SEPTEMBER 2019

Following my review of book twenty something in the Harry Bosch series (“Two Kinds of Truth”) and the encouragement of several Michael Connelly fans, I have back-tracked to where it all began. “The Black Echo”, published in 1992, marks the introduction of the eponymous detective and is testament to the journey undergone by the main character and the polishing of the author’s style over the intervening years. Connelly is certainly prolific in his output (the latest in the series, number twenty four, is due out today), so I’m keen to understand what is it fuels such longevity and keeps the novels fresh for his legions of readers?

Crime, of course, remains the most popular form of fiction and the author’s brand of punchy, contemporary, thrilling suspense is a dynamic page-turner. Still, Hieronymus Bosch is no Hercule Poirot, or Endeavour Morse (save for bearing an extraordinary name), relying solely on his cerebral gifts. Rather, at least in this first novel, he is also an action hero, more in the mould of Dirk Pitt, a maverick, determined, driven even. Leastways, our introduction to Bosch lays the foundation of a backstory that has the reader immediately curious, about a man of some implied depth, cleverly told through the FBI file held by his temporary partner for this instalment, Special Agent Eleanor Wish and the involvement of Billy Meadows, a former fellow ‘tunnel rat’ in Vietnam.


The horror and brutality of subterranean warfare has echoes of other battles (for example, see the WW1 iteration described by Sebastian Faulks in ‘Birdsong’), but the ability of such experience to shape an individual is surely not in doubt. Bosch the loner, scarred by conflict, yet as a consequence, perversely equipped for the ‘war against crime’. A round peg in the square hole that is the LAPD, he is destined to rail against the system and hold himself accountable to a personal set of values and a conscience that confers far greater integrity. Just as well, since the vultures from Internal Affairs circle, convinced that Bosch is dirty and going down.


A body – it’s a familiar opening to a crime story, but make the victim less random and the cause not so clear-cut as a simple overdose and we’re in business. Create a link to an unsolved safety deposit box robbery, perplexing national agencies – a tunnelling job, perpetrated while Bosch was suspended and the stage is set.


Curiously Bosch has little in common with colleagues and has a ‘marmite’ personality, untroubled by what others think of him. But, he also has a formidable network borne of long service and a reputation for getting results, a trait begrudgingly acknowledged even by his superiors. However, an unexpected secondment to the broader FBI investigation sees Bosch operating in an unfamiliar agency with a new set of rules. It doesn’t suit him better, though in Eleanor Wish he finds a partner and useful ally.


As the evidence mounts and connects to Washington and the chaotic withdrawal of people and wealth from Saigon at the end of the war, it is clear that powerful forces are at work and disrupting the investigation with impunity, possibly from the inside. For once, the fact that Bosch trusts no one is a positive asset. In poignant scenes evincing Karmic symmetry, the detective is fighting for his life in a tunnel and looking for a final clue on the Vietnam memorial, seemingly unable to unshackle himself from the legacy of a futile, dark past.


I really enjoyed this book and I can understand the fascination cultivated among readers for the troubled and damaged soul that is Harry Bosch. I suspect in this opening novel we have glimpsed just the tip of the iceberg created by Michael Connelly and in common with the best of fictional sleuths, it is in the flawed character of Bosch that some of the most interesting aspects of the human experience may be revealed. Book 2 awaits!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Morse goes temporarily missing…

3:55 PM 15 JULY 2017

Book 10/13 of the crime novels involving Chief Inspector Morse and I think on balance this is my favourite so far. Clearly, the fact that it won Colin Dexter the CWA Gold Dagger (again) in 1992, for the best crime novel of that year confers a gilt-edged pedigree, but within such an impressive series of high quality works of fiction (one might even call them ‘bodies of work’), this example stands tall.

On a rather random whim, Morse decides to take a holiday and notwithstanding his negative past experiences of such ventures, he books into The Bay Hotel, Lyme Regis, Dorset. The absence allows time for Morse to ponder a riddle spotted in ‘The Times’, apparently concerning the year-long police investigation into a ‘Swedish maiden’, missing in Oxford and follow the subsequent responses of editors and readers in the correspondence columns. At home, when the media starts asking questions, the absence of his star detective also confirms Superintendent Strange’s determination to place Morse in charge of the stalled investigation upon his return, even tasking DS Lewis with trying to entice Morse back early. And thus, amid such expectations the detective duo are back in harness.

In common with the other books in the series, Morse manages to lust over and make lasting impressions upon several interesting female characters. But, we also get to see more of the ‘below-the-waterline’ complexity of Morse in his self-imposed emotional isolation. This is particularly true when Morse hurries to see his colleague Max, in the hospital, but also in the unaccustomed warmth, which DS Lewis alone seems to rekindle. Indeed, once again it is Lewis who is the “catalytic factor in the curious chemistry of Morse’s mind.”

This book also introduces pathologist, Dr Laura Robson, for the first time. A feisty Geordie, the fair Laura quickly takes to verbal duelling with Morse, but the instant respect she has commanded also bodes well for how her relationship with the Chief Inspector (arch sceptic of the forensic sciences) will play out in the remaining volumes.

One of the interesting traits of Dexter’s work is the genteel veneer through which he filters the attendant brutality of violent crime. Morse rarely casts judgement, simply assembles the facts and dispassionately solves the presenting puzzle. In fact, what I regard as the ‘Oxford effect’, often gentrifies quite sordid circumstances and occasionally leaves Morse and his unrefined proclivities seeming quite tawdry by comparison. Still, in this novel, Morse seems more relaxed (perhaps an expression of holiday fever, or the reminder of his own mortality) and openly closer to Lewis. For example, Morse even entrusts his sergeant to interview the missing girl’s mother, dispatching Lewis to Stockholm. Albeit such delegation pragmatically side-stepped the Chief Inspector’s fear of flying, the decision also highlighted his dependence on the dogged efforts and boundless support of Lewis.

Again, Morse confidently posits a hypothesis based on the seemingly impenetrable array of facts, which in turn is dismantled by the developing evidence, only to be adapted anew as Morse sculpts out the truth, until the final explanation is revealed. In this case a very satisfying conclusion and the usual acknowledgement that you have to hand it to Morse – he is clever!

Rating: 4 out of 5.