Talking Truth to Power

11:14 PM 3 JANUARY 2020

“Death is my beat…” is the kind of dramatic opening at which Michael Connelly excels and it’s a fitting introduction to the main character of this 1996 novel, ‘Rocky Mountain News’ reporter, Jack McEvoy. I should perhaps stress that this is NOT a Harry Bosch detective story. Notwithstanding my intention to run down the lengthy Bosch series of novels, my learned friend and aficionado in such matters advised there was value in this (not so short) diversion that would see seeds sown, to be reaped later. Time will tell. However, the sure-footedness of the author’s writing style certainly made this standalone companion to my literary pilgrimage, worth paying homage to. Indeed, there are parallels between the detective and the journalist and just as Harry Bosch has previously found himself enmeshed in the FBI, so in this novel, it is the turn of Jack McEvoy to work alongside the Feds, in an investigation spanning a number of states.


The catalyst had been the death of Jack’s twin brother. The lead investigator on a horrific murder case, Detective Sean McEvoy had allegedly committed suicide, overwhelmed by the attendant emotional trauma. The evidence had been weighed quickly, to turn an embarrassing page for the local police department, only Jack wasn’t buying it. What if, instead of assuming suicide, it was assumed that Sean McEvoy was the victim of a homicide? Could the evidence support such a radically different interpretation? The police aren’t the only agency with investigative resources and by pulling hard on the loose threads, Jack begins to unravel a whole world of pain.


Not only is the dynamic flow of the plot reminiscent of the Bosch novels, in Jack McEvoy, the author has also embedded some very familiar traits. Intelligent, but stubborn, rebellious, but loyal, determined, but at times naive, there is something very satisfying about the maverick character cocking a snook at authority and in so doing establishing his integrity. Of course, as a former crime reporter for the LA Times, Michael Connelly is well-placed to lift the lid a little on the role of the investigative journalist and the inherent tensions between the guardianship of the public’s ‘right to know’ and those clandestine operatives tasked with keeping the public safe from harm, on a ‘need to know’ basis. With trust on both sides in short supply, the author also has fun with it, in the inevitable romantic incursion across boundaries. Though this lighter plotline perhaps eases the discomfort, which flows from the disturbing portrait of a clinical serial killer.


All-in-all a very satisfying, but challenging read and the sequel (‘The Narrows’) comes in at number ten in the Harry Bosch ‘hit parade’. In fact, last week the third book in the ‘Jack McEvoy series’ has been announced (‘Fair Warning’ due out in May 2020). This intertwining of characters and series is turning my simple trek through an interesting body of work into something of an odyssey, but the journey is made all the more interesting for it. Still, I am also indebted to my Twitter buddy @JoeBanksWrites who is up ahead on the reading list climb, like my very own literary sherpa! Next stop for me, Book 5, “Trunk Music” (1997). See you at the top!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Colin Dexter still at his peak!

12:13 PM 18 AUGUST 2017

Book 12/13 and the penultimate novel in the series of murder mysteries confronted by Chief Inspector Morse of Thames Valley Police. And after the sombre tone of “The Daughters of Cain”, a more emollient and less emburdened Morse takes to the fray, centred on the race to succeed Sir Clixby Bream, retiring Master of Lonsdale College, Oxford.


There is something immediately intriguing about peering behind the dense curtain surrounding such elites and for the reader it is unsurprising to learn that superficial impressions will prove as important as academic substance. Indeed, for the only two candidates (Julian Storrs and Denis Cornford) the stakes could scarcely be higher, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for elevation and preferment expected to culminate in a knighthood. But, for such a prize, ambition and even ruthlessness may be required, to burnish reputations, curry favour with the electorate and suppress unhelpful information.
Both contenders also have the dedicated support of a wife, but a crude ‘SWOT’ analysis might conclude that the ‘strengths’ and ‘opportunities’ conferred by their respective partners are at least balanced by the attendant ‘weaknesses’ and ‘threats’. Certainly the vulnerability to be exploited from past mistakes/experiences looms large in this tale, extending even to Morse. However, notwithstanding the opprobrium directed at ‘blackmailers’, as abusers of power, there is also a dearth of sympathy for the disempowered ‘victim’, or the manipulated.


What endears Morse to the reader is his candid, but paradoxical unwillingness to defer to authority figures and yet clinging to his own superior status. Only DS Lewis, intermittently coveted as a friend, is thus protected, in spite of outbursts of insubordination and frank observations, intolerable from any other quarter. In this book, Morse also continues to experience deteriorating health and the two detectives are inexorably drawn closer together and in the ultimate, touching confirmation of Lewis’ favoured status, the enigmatic Morse shares his Christian name (via correspondence, of course).


Along the way there is the customary flawed hypothesizing, analysis, building and rejigging of the facts, before the final puzzle is expertly revealed. My favourite analogy of Morse’s thought process was of a train passing through a station, too fast to read the nameplate, but as the carriage slows the location may hove into view.
Again, Dexter has deftly juxtaposed the traditional façade of high academic establishment with base human behaviour. That the privileged miscreant can be humbled before the law is reassuring, even satisfying. Still, even Morse has limitations to his moral authority and contemptible characters slip through the net, but at least he makes a positive difference.


Notwithstanding the CWA daggers liberally awarded throughout this series of books, I think this may yet be my most enjoyable read. Perhaps, not the most complex or devious puzzle, but more for the development of the main characters and the masterful set up for the final book. Bring it on!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Not the Mountain, but the Climb

10:09 PM 23 SEPTEMBER 2016

The notion of a story about Elijah may not be an obvious choice for the secular majority. Yet, such is the depth and quality of the Brazilian’s writing that the author successfully draws the reader in and through this profound parable invites the curious to reflect on the path of his/her ‘Personal Legend’ and the various stages that living one’s own destiny entails. Moreover, how should one respond in the face of the ‘unavoidable’. As Coelho observes,”…the unavoidable has touched the life of every human being on the face of the earth. Some have rebounded, others have given up – but all of us have felt the wings of tragedy brushing against us.”

To illustrate the point, the novel is set in the year 870 B.C. in Phoenicia (latterly Lebanon) and relates the exploits of the prophet, Elijah, fleeing persecution in neighbouring Israel, at the hands of Phoenician, Princess Jezebel. Since childhood, Elijah had heard voices and conversed with angels, but the massacre of the prophets and direction by the Lord, caused him to to seek refuge in the city of Akbar. Notwithstanding Phoenicia had enjoyed a lengthy period of peace and prosperity, underpinned by strategic alliances and a talent for trade, the presence of an enemy of of their countrywoman, Jezebel, placed Elijah under a constant threat. Throw in that the Phoenicians’ worship of pagan gods inhabiting the Fifth Mountain, the threat of Akbar’s invasion by an Assyrian army and a love interest with a native citizen and the possibilities for conflict are manifold. Indeed, the story of Elijah is a study in resilience, determination, compassion and the positive power of love, as well as an examination of doubt, fear and corrupted morals, all of which beset the human experience over millenia.

Coelho’s gift is to invite the reader to gain inspiration from the story of Elijah, contemplate our own responses to the unavoidable and embrace the inevitable potential for learning and growth on our respective journeys. A very thought-provoking read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.