The Ultimate ‘Skin in the Game’….

6:54 PM 15 FEBRUARY 2020

Another exceptional tale from the pen of Michael Connelly, though again this book strays from my ‘as the crow flies’ list of novels featuring Harry Bosch. Instead, the author introduces the reader to ex-FBI agent, Terrell (‘Terry’) McCaleb, who will (I am reliably informed) cross paths with Bosch further downstream in the series. Recently retired on health grounds, McCaleb is grappling with profound changes in his life. On the upside he is living on his late father’s boat, ‘The Following Sea’ and planning a permanent move to his spiritual home, Catalina Island. More challenging, McCaleb is recovering from a recent heart transplant, but just as the reader is processing this interesting scenario, Connelly wrings more intrigue from it, by engaging the reluctant retiree in a search for the murderer of the organ donor, indirectly responsible for his own survival. Still, if the central idea is cleverly innovative, the execution of the fairly complex plot is at times simply sublime.

In my earlier review of novel, ‘The Poet’, I observed that there were similarities between the main character (journalist, Jack McEvoy) and Harry Bosch and the same can be said of former agent McCaleb, but that does not detract from the slick plot, wherein he must operate without the authority that an FBI badge provides. Moreover, the posse of new characters arranged around McCaleb help develop the story in ways that might be more difficult for officers of the law, bound by the processes of criminal justice.

The frail condition of McCaleb post-op’ is both a catalyst for action and an attendant risk, with potentially fatal consequences if he can’t nurture his new heart. Indeed, the rhythm of the book has the reader’s pulse eerily paired with McCaleb and the trials of a painstaking investigation. That his involvement is at the emotional request of his saviour’s bereaved sister (Graciela Rivers), just ramps up the pressure on McCaleb and the imperative that her sister’s sacrifice and his survival is justified. The guilt that swirls around McCaleb, as the unwitting recipient of the young mother’s life chance, beset by a debt he can’t possibly repay, is poignant and sensitively handled by the author. However, inevitably McCaleb must also overcome the competitive architects of, thus far, fruitless investigations by LAPD, the bureau and a local Sheriff’s department, if he is to put things right (as far as he can) and combat the notion that he had most to gain from the donor’s death!

In common with the earlier novels, Connelly’s gritty portrayal of Los Angeles and its environs suggests a warts and all fondness for the area, which seeps into his characters. Certainly the boat into which McCaleb has been cocooned may yet see him emerge a quite different man, especially if he can land a suitable companion for his onward voyage.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the meeting of McCaleb and Bosch anticipated in Book 7 in the series (‘A Darkness More Than Night’). Once again Michael Connelly has created a puzzling and compelling page-turner, with a main character, in this instance, destined to literally have ‘skin in the game’. I toast the author’s ingenuity and the strength of his imaginative powers with 4.5 well-deserved stars.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

‘The Hours’ well spent

9:24 PM 8 AUGUST 2017

This short book was winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1999 and takes as its start point the graphic suicide of Virginia Woolf. The tragic loss of one of the leading lights of the ‘Bloomsbury Group’ in 1941, finally succumbing to the fatal depths of recurrent depression at the age of just 59, conferred a profound loss on the cultural health of a nation, yet posterity has rightly lauded the author’s legacy. In his homage to Woolf, Michael Cunningham interweaves the thoughts and experiences of three female characters: Mrs Woolf (Virginia), Mrs Brown (Laura) and Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa), Located in 1923 London, 1949 L.A. and 1990s New York , respectively. Virginia is mulling over ideas for the fictional character yet to inhabit her most famous novel, while Clarissa and Laura are spending a day in preparation for a celebration in their respective times and place. Successive chapters rotate between the discrete storylines  culminating in an unusual cross-over in the end, but the snapshots also draw on some common themes, which beset each of the protagonists, irrespective of the prevailing social norms in ‘their’ time.

What rescues the book from a sense of cerebral indulgence on the part of the writer though, is the moving beauty of the language and as the reader quaffs down the pages like a smooth, warming liqueur, it is good to savour the interplay of quite sumptuous tones. It also remains consistent with the ‘stream of consciousness’ storytelling deployed by Woolf in ‘Mrs Dalloway’ (published 1925), albeit this example is not entirely satisfying, given its fragmentary nature and slightly bitter aftertaste

Still, the takeaway theme for me from this book is the individual capacity, indeed responsibility, to create and shape one’s life, within the context of the prevailing time and to weigh the personal sacrifices and gains that attend our choices. Some of the metaphors were also interesting, for example, some mistakes such as cake-making are retrievable, others require stoicism to deal with the consequences, but when it comes down to it, life and love is fundamentally fragile…and fickle.

Rating: 4 out of 5.