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Fabulous, with a series of surprising twists
on October 24, 2000
I've read a lot of mysteries: just about the entire "Travis McGee" series by John D. MacDonald; all of the "Fletch" novels (including the two "Son of" books) by Gregory McDonald; every Raymond Chandler piece of fiction; most of Dashiell Hammett; some Ed McBain; many Carl Hiassen books; a few Agatha Christies.
Michael Connelly ranks up there with all of those distinguished writers. He has a fluid, detailed writing style that conveys the scene without bogging down in such intricacies that the reader gets lost. The dialogue is snappy and hard-boiled but will probably age well (unlike, say, some of Chandler's).
"The Concrete Blonde" is the third novel starring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. (The order goes "The Black Echo," "The Black Ice," "The Concrete Blonde," "The Last Coyote," "Trunk Music," and "Angel's Flight." The new novel coming out in early 2001 involves Bosch as well, but it's not clear if Bosch is the main character or a secondary character.) I've read the first three and the last ("AF"), and, while they are all good, "The Concrete Blonde" is the best thus far.
Earlier in his career, an incident that is described or alluded to in virtually every novel, Bosch gained some notoriety and fame for taking down a serial killer known as "The Dollmaker." He was so called because he would use makeup and polish to paint up his victims. The killer sent bad poems to Bosch, taunting him with descriptions of the victims. Eventually, Bosch tracked down the killer and shot him to death when the man reached toward his pillow . . . for a hairpiece, as it turned out. Bosch was cleared of wrongfulness in the shooting, though he was disciplined for not calling for backup.
Fast forward four years. The dead man's widow is now suing the LAPD and Bosch for violating her husband's civil rights, and the case is going to trial. All of a sudden, a letter is dropped off for Bosch at the police department: it contains a poem, just like the ones the Dollmaker sent, and it leads the LAPD to another body . . . which is painted up just like the Dollmaker's victims. Could Bosch have killed the wrong man?
"The Concrete Blonde" alternates between the court scenes and the investigation of the new murder, and the transitions are deftly handled. While the court scenes are not perfectly accurate (I am, unfortunately, a lawyer by trade), they are much better than in most novels.
The mystery is tight and compelling. Having read lots of mysteries, I often am able to guess at the outcome simply because the set-up reminds me of another book I've read. In fact, that happened with "The Black Ice." Not so with "The Concrete Blonde." About 180 pages into it, I thought I had it figured out. With about 50 pages to go, I thought my instinct had been confirmed. Oops. I was wrong, and about as shocked as Bosch!
In addition to weaving a great mystery, Connelly paints a reasonably deep picture of his main character, Bosch, a Vietnam veteran (he cleared out enemy tunnels) who is simultaneously cultured but also emotionally damaged.
To sum it up, let me put it this way: I started with "Angel's Flight," and when I was finished, I ordered all of the Harry Bosch novels immediately.