Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

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Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Michael Connelly has a name among writers for producing crime fiction in a style that is balanced, thorough, and exciting. Reviewers who are prone to analysing his stories soon discover that a Connelly story could realistically happen in the way that he says has happened. Being factually accurate and written in an involving style should be enough to characterize a fine book. But they are not. There has to be a touch of magic that only first-class writers possess. Michael Connelly has proved time and again that he has that magic.

Fair Warning re-introduces Jack McEvoy, a detective we have not seen for so long that he has lain largely forgotten. He was active in The Poet and The Scarecrow, but appears to have been pensioned off in favour of Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller, and new chum Renee Ballard. A guess at the reason for his re-introduction now is the age of Harry Bosch. An introduction of new heroes is required as Bosch recedes to pasture. But all that is speculative and says nothing about the current book.

Fair Warning is a good read, not a cracker that keeps you up at night until you turn up to work next day, totally drained out. There are minor issues that may turn out to be idiosyncratic. More on that topic later. The story begins with a particularly gruesome murder, committed by a particularly sadistic sociopath. It develops through the choices made by a particularly nosy reporter and the doggedness with which he follows the unfolding events.

This doyen of crime fiction has employed in most of his novels a valuable practice. Whether it is a metaphoric tendril growing out from the central plot or a simple act of insertion, the effect is that some trigger supplies the impetus that a good story will use to speed up or delay the onset of an event.  Gene technology morphs into a rogue lab that destroys a foundation upon which a justice system depends, more than enough to supply new information to enrich the plot. Connelly has the delicateness of touch that allows him to grow his story without readers becoming aware that he is driving the plot.

Connelly’s novels always exhibit a plethora of very different, and therefore, easily distinguishable characters. We’re not likely to forget the detectives Mattson and Sakai who deliver spite to a new level. Writing as a reader, I don’t think I can ever forgive Michael Connelly for allowing his hero Jack McEvoy to destroy the relationship he shared with Rachel Walling. Walling is one of those Connelly creations who can break all the rules in the Good Citizen Handbook and yet readers love her anyway. Myron Levin is a convincing editor and Emily, one of his team of reporters, acquits her role in exemplary fashion. The Shrike is a very convincing villain.

This author can be very subtle, very sly. On the other hand, he occasionally makes decisions that were better not made. Naming his book after the organization he sponsors, vesting a major character in his book with a name, identical with that of the principal officer of a real-life organization, is amateurish. Readers have reason for thinking that the book may have been built on a false premise, that its reason for being is to promote the real company’s name and to raise funds for it.

A further weakness in this book’s structure is the section called The First Story. A thrilling tale has carried Connelly’s readers along, they are fired-up to continue with the excitement they have enjoyed, and what happens? They run up against a colourless newspaper account, one that takes more than six pages to tell the readers what they know already. Frustrated, those same readers begin to think that Connelly may have reached his limits, that the well of creativity has run dry. The section is not a success.

However, let’s not lose the sight of an excellent tale. A small amount of questionable material is not enough to weaken a very fine story. I would not hesitate to recommend this book in the highest terms.

Fair Warning

(2020)

By Michael Connelly

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76087-798-9

$32.99; 416 pp

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