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Connelly Delivers a Very Good Harry Bosch Novel
on 4 October 2009
I've been counting down the days until the appearance of this latest instalment in the Harry Bosch series from one of the biggest guns in the genre, Michael Connelly. I was halfway through `City of Lies' by R J Ellory when Connelly came-a-calling and he's one of the few writers for whom I'd have no question in laying down another author's work to finish later. Such was the case here; few crime writers are as dependable as Michael Connelly at providing a top-class read; he very rarely disappoints.
In `Nine Dragons', LAPD detective Harry Bosch and his partner Ignacio Ferras cover for another unit by investigating the shooting of an elderly Chinese store owner in a predominantly black neighbourhood. Bosch however reads the clues and susses out that there's a triad angle (sorry!) to the killing. Once again Ferras is a mostly ineffectual presence and Bosch acquires a new de facto partner for the case - David Chu from the force's Asian Gang Unit.
After arresting a triad extortionist there appear to be leaks in the investigation and Bosch is advised by unknown persons to back off from the case. Then he's knocked sideways when a video is sent to his cell phone; his daughter Madeline has been abducted in Hong Kong where she lives with her mother, and Bosch's ex-wife, Eleanor Wish. The biggest section of the book involves Bosch flying to Hong Kong (specifically Kowloon) to get her back. Here he steps into a strange world of bizarre customs where a sinister omnipotent force (the triads) holds sway.
This section has obvious parallels with the recent thriller movie `Taken' starring Liam Neeson. I don't wish to underline and belabour the similarities, but those who've seen the movie will take my point.
There are less internal politics in 'Nine Dragons': Bosch both gets on well (or at least as well as Harry ever gets on with ANYONE!) and respects his immediate boss Lieutenant Gandle, and the feeling is mutual. He's finally appreciated - long gone are the days where Bosch was a loose cannon within LAPD, railing against the superiors whom he held in utter contempt.
Harry Bosch is a magnetic presence within the pages of a novel; he has very view quirks, other than his obsessive love of jazz and while he has a past-life killing tunnel rats in Vietnam, Connelly never overplays this. Although he's psychologically damaged, he's a straight-shooting, dependable, no-nonsense character who always likes to keep an investigation moving, while his acute mind often keeps him a step ahead of everyone else. He does get things wrong at times - he is human after all - but he usually comes good in the end. He doesn't do humour, and there's not much place for sentimentality in his life. Here he is accused of racism at one point, but he quickly slaps this down and admonishes his accuser.
`Nine Dragons', delivers a good double whammy twist ending and there's also a nice appearance by an old friend that all adds to the enjoyment. However, it follows hot on the heels of his last novel `The Scarecrow' and occasionally shows some signs of hasty writing; there are a few passages where there are repetitions of common words in close proximity when there are perfectly adequate synonyms available. The plot is also a little underdeveloped in places.
Connelly's prose is as always spare and functional; above all else he's a master story-teller, rather than a writing stylist. Yet he is capable of being poetic at times, and the juxtaposition of these passages next to the pragmatic prose makes them hit home harder.
'Nine Dragons' is a very good read, but for me it doesn't resonate with the same power as, say `The Last Coyote' or `Lost Light' or ........... (insert your own favourite Bosch novel here). I've knocked my rating down a star, because Connelly has set the bar so high, but I imagine `Nine Dragons' will satisfy most fans of the writer, and do a lot more than that for others.