Sometimes I think I’m never going to read another big-name writer, especially one who works in suspense-thriller realm. I really thought that would be the case when I finished “The Scarecrow” a few months ago.
I told myself I would spend the next half-dozen books reading writers whose names I’d never heard before. (Turns out in some cases there’s a reason you’d never heard the names.)
So when “9 Dragons” came long, I found I couldn’t resist Connelly’s next challenge for Harry Bosch. After so many entertaining yarns, why would I ever swear off Michael Connelly? Maybe it was Harry Bosch I missed.
When I had finished “Scarecrow,” one word came to mind as I closed the book:
Connelly is a former reporter—and so am I (twenty years worth). Connelly’s newsroom tidbits are good and so is the idea of writing about a newsroom veteran on his way through the downsizing wringer. The “newspapers in decline” backdrop is nifty. It sets up a terrific timeframe for the book, that our hero has only two weeks—until his job expires—to report and write a story that will light the city on fire. The idea of “springing an innocent” during his final run has considerable appeal, of course, and Jack McEvoy has just the “case” he needs, a wrongly accused inner city kid.
But it’s not a “case” and that’s where I think Connelly has McEvoy approach things too much like a cop (hello, Harry Bosch) and not like a reporter. Not like a reporter at all. McEvoy’s methods, approach, mobility and style are much more cop-like than reporter-like, even given the loose license McEvoy is given since this is allegedly his “last story.”
“This is getting pretty far- fetched, isn’t it?” McEvoy asks when thinking about how many firewalls and computer systems the bad guy would have had to crash in order to wreak so much havoc within the L.A. Times network.
The answer is, “yes, pretty far-fetched.”
The plot feels baked with a random series of cookie cutters. The bad guy’s warped sense of humanity is sprung from the familiar inner volcano of psycho/sexual perversions. The bad guy saddles up next to McEvoy at a bar without McEvoy knowing it’s him. (Seen this before?) FBI agent Rachel Walling loses her badge and then regains it, drum roll please, just in the nick of time. (I’ve never seen bureaucracy move so fast.) The bad guy is a mentor for other up-and-coming psychos and his students have to “prove” their worth to the master. The ticking clock near the end—the most thought and action ever recorded in a 45-seconds span—is straight pulp.
Two lines in particular made me think Connelly had a good idea for this book and then mailed it in.
Number one from McEvoy: “The thought chilled me to the center of my soul.”
Number two: “I was part of the story again—I had killed one of the people the story was about.”
Some writers would have ripped those up, started up. I had concerns for franchise writers everwhere, even the good ones.
And then I read “9 Dragons.”
Still Harry Bosch?
All the way. “9 Dragons” is a book of reactions. There are no long scenes where Bosch is thoughtfully reviewing a case file and uncovering what others missed. There is no granular deconstruction of a case, but it is still smart, deductive Harry Bosch, just flashing a bit more James Bond this time around. Even with heaps of action and some heart-pounding hunts, the plot is intricate and does some nifty dips and turns at the end.
“9 Dragons” follows a deadly series of steps stemming from the murder of a liquor store owner in L.A., near where Bosch had done some work during the big Los Angeles riots. The murder quickly propels Bosch into warp speed when his daughter’s life is threatened half way around the world, in Hong Kong. The situation gives Bosch plenty of ripe opportunities to question every relationship in his life—partners, other detectives, ex-wife and daughter too. In “9 Dragons,” it’s Bosch’s agenda.
“Bosch was most at home in a case when he was pushing the action himself, setting the track for others to follow. He wasn’t a sideman. He had to drive the beat.”
The steps to find the precise building in Hong Kong where his daughter is being held are clever. It’s much too early in the proceedings, of course, to actually find his daughter, however, and Bosch’s blood boils harder. The relentless pursuit from that point forward is cinematic and hard-charging. Completely original? Perhaps not. Well-done? Your fingernails will attest to the suspense.
“9 Dragons” is Harry Bosch out of his clinical, analytical element. He is “in some sort of medieval painting.” The normal assumptions aren’t as dependable. Living out on the edge of his senses and at the bitter tips of his anger, Bosch makes some serious mistakes.
“9 Dragons” is quite a ride.
Franchise writers? I’ll try to be more selective in the future.