New light shiningReview by MARTIN SPICE
Lost Light Author: Michael Connelly Publisher: Orion
FOLLOWERS of Michael Connelly’s consistently excellent crime novels featuring Harry Bosch will be pleased to hear that in Connelly’s latest offering, Lost Light, Bosch has been re-invented.
At the end of the last instalment in Bosch’s messy and fraught career, he finally earns his reinstatement in the Robbery-Homicide Division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). As the pages of Chasing the Dime close, Bosch seems destined to return to the operations that had made his name. And then Connelly plays his wild card. Bosch is back in Robbery and Homicide – but before he even moves desks, Bosch is out, this time by his own choice. Weary of the game, Bosch just walks away from it.
It was an unnerving moment for his fans. Harry Bosch – retired? They need not have feared. Connelly’s great creation was merely biding his time before being re-incarnated as that most traditional of Los Angeles crime fighters, the private detective.
Angella Benton is dead, killed in what appeared to be a sex crime. But something about the positioning of the body, and particularly the positioning of the imploring hands, always struck Bosch as false. Sure, the trappings of the crime scene were right but the feel of it was wrong. For years, Bosch had felt that this was a scene that was designed to look like a sex crime, a scene that had been arranged to mislead and to disguise the real events and their real motives. In short, it was staged, a piece of play-acting.
And where better for such events to lead than Hollywood?
The gates of Alexander Taylor’s drive are open when Bosch drives in, and his front door is opened by the box-office champion himself. No maids, no flunkeys ? just Bosch with a clean shave in his twelve-hundred-dollar suit and Taylor in a soft blue running suit that probably cost even more. Bosch has 20 minutes to convince Taylor there are things to be discovered about Angella’s death. By the time he leaves, Taylor has offered Bosch US$50,000 if he solves the case: “Listen to me. I know a good story when I hear it. Detective haunted by the one that got away. It’s a universal theme, tried and true.”
A new story is not Taylor’s only financial interest. One of the films he had in production at the time of Angella’s death lost a cool US$2mil in cash. The money was being used as a prop in the film by a director who insisted on authenticity. It was lost in a murderous heist that ended in a shootout in which at least two people were killed. Angella worked in a lowly position for the film company. Was there, could there possibly be, any connection between the heist and her death?
Slowly but surely Bosch starts to break down the case. But the further he gets, the further others are prepared to go to stop him. These include his old colleagues from LAPD and even the FBI. They believe that the two million dollars were stolen for a terrorist organisation and that, post 9/11, national security is at stake. With varying degrees of threat, Bosch is warned off.
It has to be said that this is not the most original plot handling. The lone detective in conflict with anyone and everyone ? the rebel with a cause ? the lost soul that finds some sort of salvation by becoming an avenging angel ? these are staples of crime fiction. But Connelly is a master of his craft and Bosch is such a convincing creation that he behaves credibly as an individual rather than as a cliché of the genre. Readers who have followed Bosch’s career and cases over the previous eight novels will know the feeling of “Oh no, he’s doing it again” as Bosch digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble.
The switch from LAPD to private detective is accompanied by an important switch in style. Gone is the third person narrative of the earlier novels and in its place we have a Philip Marlowe-style first-person narrative.
This works well and allows Connelly to present Bosch’s thinking and feelings more directly to the reader.
For Connelly, it was a challenge to make the change: “I felt the tradition of the private detective novel called for it. It seemed to me that all my favourite PI novels were in the first person and involved the investigator talking directly to the reader. So I wanted to follow that tradition and see how I did. I am always looking for ways to shake things up in the series, to keep it fresh and changing. The only constant I want in the series is change.”
This promises well for the future, marking, as it does, Connelly’s commitment to avoid anything that might look like a re-hashing of old formulae. Certainly, Lost Light is well up to the standard of the previous books in the series. Connelly remains one of the very best crime fiction writers around and has set blisteringly high standards for other writers to emulate.
I detect too, a slightly softer core than I remember previously. A surprise at the end of the book is Bosch’s vulnerability in his dealings with his ex-wife, now a professional gambler at the Las Vegas tables. There is a raw edge to his emotions, a sense of pain and loss that humanises him without diminishing in any way his toughness. The book’s title refers to a revelation at the end of the book of almost mystical intensity and Connelly’s new-found Harry Bosch opens the book with a telling monologue that shifts us into the new territory that author and character go on to explore:
“There is no end of things in the heart ? 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 the 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.”