Reviewed by Ian Lipke
I’m pretty sure that Michael Connelly has never written a book that has failed the stringent standards he sets. If he has, it has never passed through the publisher’s gate. I remember The Poet and Trunk Music from many years ago. I suspect the good writers are those who have found their niche and live in the memory of their fans as the years unroll. More recently I’ve read and enjoyed Dark Sacred Night, a thriller that saw the arrival of Detective Renee Ballard, whose unorthodoxy meshes so well with the rugged ‘run-over rules’ attitude of Harry Bosch. The current volume re-visits Mickey Haller and adds him to the team. What is becoming clear is that Bosch’s retirement will be permanent before much longer and replacement by Ballard will occur.
The present volume only hints at a retirement by Bosch. However, by providing a situation where Bosch works on one case while Ballard takes virtual complete control of another, the reader can believe that Bosch will not be around much longer. A further impression, confirming the likelihood of a changing of the guard, is the attention given to the characterisation of Ballard: her ability not only to carry a grudge but to capitalise on the rapport she has had to find with her sworn enemy; her knowing people within police ranks who can help her, together with an understanding of what it takes to worm information from a colleague hitherto unknown.
Haller makes an appearance in this case for two distinct reasons. The first is to remind Connelly’s readers that this noted defence lawyer is closely related to Bosch and will be on hand to help with Bosch’s potential case against the Department, and secondly, ostensibly more prosaic, to entertain us with a Court win against impossible odds, something Connelly writes so convincingly.
So much for speculation. What’s this book The Night Fire all about?
When Bosch was a rookie, he had an inspiring mentor John Jack Thompson. From Thompson, Bosch learned a work ethic that, despite a tempting easier way, Bosch remained true to. We have observed his relentlessness in seeing that justice is done. Now Thompson is dead and a murder book has disappeared, only to be found in Thompson’s study on the day of his funeral. Bosch collects the book and, with the assistance of Ballard, finds out why Thompson was fretting over a very cold case.
Bosch knows how to push the buttons of people who can help and is a master at scoring points off enemies. In this regard, he is outclassed only by Ballard. She is as tough and hard-headed as any young woman in crime fiction. I would not be recommending that a young man seeking understanding and solace should ask Renee Ballard out on a date. She is a sophisticated liar with a flair for honesty. Her technological skills are contemporaneous with her deep understanding of how her fellow officers think and feel. She can bluff with the best of them. Tough she may be but always, unfailing each day, she takes care of her dog. Readers have no trouble retaining interest in her battles with superior officers, which while unending, show the fighting spirit the readers love.
Bosch is the unchanging, old-time copper who remains mystified by technological advances; indeed, he has never understood that a modern police force has, in fact, surrendered caring in the interests of slickness and modern values. Bosch can be cunning – his worst enemies concede that – and has mastered the way to get around a problem without the necessity of barging through it.
Dispensing with gender, we now have the ‘old bull-young bull’ scenario. Each finds reasons why he/she should be the one to initiate the next phase of their joint or separate projects. Two headstrong individuals that create tension, and in the process, fine reading.
This is vintage Connelly. I enjoyed it immensely.
By Michael Connelly
Allen & Unwin
$32.99; 400 pp