Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Michael Connelly’s latest book, The Dark Hours, is a masterpiece. He has the distinction of creating new characters that are tough and hard-bitten but, nevertheless, relevant to the constantly changing environment that is the twenty-first century. At the same time, his known characters are not neglected but grow in dimensionality.
The initial scene features the familiar LAPD detective Renee Ballard and her lazy partner Lisa Moore on a stakeout in the hope that a gang of serial rapists, calling themselves The Minutemen, will strike thus giving Ballard a chance at capturing them. But this is New Year…the time of the “gunshot symphony. For a solid five minutes, there [followed]… an unbroken onslaught as revellers of the new year fired their weapons into the sky following a Los Angeles tradition of decades” (7). It is called a rain of lead, people are invariably injured by falling bullets, while some are murdered. This tradition introduces the murder of Javier Raffa, the involvement of Ballard and her friend/mentor Harry Bosch.
In similar vein to his earlier books, Connelly is adept at introducing and exploring social issues within the framework of dealing with major crime. Social unrest has affected all groups in the United States in past months, with the police forces wearing much criticism. Some of the best and some of the worst law administrators, from lowly constables to senior personnel, receive comment in Connelly’s books but it is rare for readers to notice. Social comment combined with meticulous detective work give this author a book that meets high professional standards, one that is ‘an easy read’ while being satisfyingly challenging. It is a book that skirts around issues that can be flash points with little provocation, items like vaccination, homelessness, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, radicals with vested interests, and a deep-seated anger that spawns violence. Any protests aimed at Connelly’s handling of these tender hotspots must have been heavily muted or absent. I heard of none. That is what sensitive writing can achieve.
Details of the plot are understandably not revealed. Javier Raffa has been killed by a not-so-stray bullet. Ballard links the bullet to one of Bosch’s old cases. Bosch is more than willing to assist Renee Ballard but, even though the LAPD is riddled with Covid 19 and there are major internal changes that don’t seem so radical to the worldly Bosch, keeping score of imagined past offences is rife within the LAPD and his help is not quickly accepted. Twists and turns mark the plot while clever police work defeats criminality in the end.
I’ve said very little about the book. Connelly readers would expect me to leave the story alone. They know it will be a good read. They know that this author will be focused on finding ways to make the story more puzzling and the characters multi-layered. Ballard is faced with an almost impossibly difficult task: show that a single bullet among thousands was fired with malicious intent. Then find out who committed the murder. Just to test the tenacity of the young detective, place her in a police force where morale could not be lower, with a superior officer who no longer has a burning need to see justice done. Make her task really challenging by giving her a partner who is lazy and untrustworthy. On the positive side, put her with Harry Bosch.
This is an excellent crime novel.
By Michael Connelly
Allen & Unwin
$32.99; 400 pp