Reviewed by Ian Lipke
It was an appropriate choice that a gold pen should figure so prominently in this story by Michael Connelly. The book is a gold medal winner, its author a writer who keeps coming back to his readership with yet another nugget from that literary gold mine, his creative mind. One could labour the point too far but how else to explain the phenomenon that is Michael Connelly.
In this episode one of Connelly’s best-drawn characters Harry Bosch is asked by an aging billionaire to discover if he had any offspring as a result of a liaison with a pretty Latino girl in his youth. Warning Bosch that the identification of a child would trigger alarm among those who considered themselves entitled to a share in the old man’s fortune when he eventually died, some of whom would not stop at murder in order to maintain the status quo, Whitney P. Vance engages Bosch, pays him a cash advance, and sends him out to search. And thus are sketched the bare bones of this element of the story.
Bosch has another career. Having successfully sued the Los Angeles Police Department for wrongful dismissal, Bosch does not need to work, but labours part time and unpaid for a small police force in San Fernando. His particular focus when the story begins is identifying and arresting a rapist called the Screen Cutter, a serial offender whose trail of destroyed lives makes it imperative that Bosch arrest the culprit without delay.
The third vein in this intriguing and complex story is supplied by the characters with whom Bosch interacts. There is an old stand-in in the person of Mickey Haller, a defence lawyer. There are police employed at San Fernando whose jealousy at Bosch’s success at solving cold cases knows no bounds. There are police from Bosch’s past who hate him for the public drubbing he gave to the LA Police Department while pursuing his case against senior officers. Hatreds run deep. Bosch receives a note from a colleague he has never met wishing “you get ass cancer real soon and you die a slow and painful death.” (p. 94)
The threads interact, the reader knowing that though they are hopelessly entangled, gentle tugging and the application of experience combined with common sense will sort them from amongst the other evidence that lies hidden beneath the surface of the novel. Sifting the wheat from the chaff is something at which Connelly has become very competent.
Connelly provides a master class as to how a police procedural novel should be written. Thus on page 162 Bosch asks a victim of the Screen Cutter to walk the investigators through her story, then he inspects the rear window where entry to the house had been effected. He wants to see the knife that was recovered from a tangled curtain. He studies it through the evidence bag, notes the manufacturer’s logo and some code numbers that were too small to read. He does not take the knife out of the evidence bag. And so the evidence is processed, each step building on its predecessor while the evidence itself is left untainted.
Perhaps the most interesting things about Connelly’s writing are his varied characters and his imaginative use of settings. If we take the second point first, we witness people in a helicopter under sniper attack in Vietnam, an American soldier changing into civilian clothes and flying directly to the States from Vietnam, a mansion, a Foundling Home, a police cubicle, a park and meeting place, a hospital ward, and so the scenes keep changing, each carefully constructed moments in space and time. The characters are even richer. We get to know the billionaire Vance, first in his palatial office and then in flashback where Vance’s character is revealed in just a few scattered lines. Bosch is already known to experienced readers, but we are treated to his Lieutenant and his Chief of Police who are portrayed as individuals no reader could confuse with the other. Sisto is a recognizable type as is Bella Lourdes and Beatriz Sahagun, but each is immediately identified by their speech patterns or temperament or actions. The people in a Connelly novel are interesting people. They will invigorate the reader or leave him unsatisfied and enervated, but they will never leave him bored.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye is the right title for this very satisfying book. It has a remarkable opening series of scenes and its end paves the way for a new set of Bosch experiences. I cannot wait to read them.
By Michael Connelly
Allen & Unwin