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Michael Connelly, “The Dark Hours”

When in doubt, grab a Michael Connelly.

So smooth, so steady. And such a calm, unforced style.

Story first, style second. Seeking college-educated prose? Seek elsewhere.

Oh, is there a pandemic? Connelly smoothly interweaves the issue into the story as deftly as a magician. It’s just more backdrop and fodder to work with. Renee Ballard plays the “get vaccinated” now role. Harry Bosch is full of excuses; he’s too busy and can’t be bothered. He doesn’t go anywhere anymore so it’s safer to stay home. He claims.

But the pandemic never overwhelms the story, just plays its part. There is still justice to be served. Even as this story rolls up on the Jan. 6 insurrection and attempted overthrow in Washington, D.C., the event resonates back on the themes of government mistrust and government authority. These nods to real-world events ground The Dark Hours, and most of Connelly’s crime fiction, in guess what? The real world. You can feel the shoe leather hit the ground.

Billed as “A Renee Ballard and Harry Bosch Novel,” The Dark Hours is 80 percent Ballard and 20 percent Bosch. That’s a guess. I listened to this one on audio and it was great to hear Titus Welliver handling the Bosch dialogue. Christine Lakin is fantastic as Ballard.

I have run a bit hot and cold with Connelly in the past, and I’m hardly a Connelly completist, but the more I read in general the more I appreciate Connelly’s ability to lay the groundwork for a story and build events to a strong, satisfying conclusion. He is not afraid of complexity, but he parses it out cleanly for readers.

There are two crimes that bring Bosch and Ballard together. One is a New Year’s Eve murder of a body shop owner. That case quickly connects with an old case from Bosch’s files. And there is Ballard’s work tracking down the “Midnight Men.” There have been two “Midnight Men” cases and they are both connected by “modus operandi, not DNA, because the Midnight Men were careful not to leave DNA behind.”

Ballard’s work on the second case leads to agonizing decisions about how much public information to release, and therefore protect potential future victims, or hold the cards close and not alert the bad guys that you are onto their methods so you can more easily catch them in the act the next time they attack. Oh, and along the way weigh whether the media will clobber the LAPD again for withholding crucial information from the public. Ballard struggles with this. One of the underlying themes in The Dark Hours is about navigating the police bureaucracy itself and balancing protocols with what might be best for the individual versus what’s good for the case. Bosch resists the vaccine. At least, it doesn’t fit with his schedule at first. “You should make an appointment, Harry,” says Ballard. “Don’t turn it into a thing.” And Ballard, soon enough, resists all medical advice to get thoroughly checked out and watching carefully for concussion-related injuries after falling down a set of stairs and banging her head on the concrete.

In The Dark Hours there is plenty of detailed, police procedural work. Bosch guides Ballard here and there, jumps into the action as needed.  Their interplay is respectful. Ballard, however, rejects Bosch’s advice in planning a trap for the Midnight Men and, well, things go awry. As they should. As we know they will. I’m a bit tired of fictional cops getting suspended, and suddenly free to investigate in their unorthodox ways so the story can progress, but it’s done here very seamlessly.

The ending builds beautifully as Bosch and Ballard travel a road to a “horror show” of atrocities. In The Dark Hours, with Bosch and Ballard in their “front-row seats” to a very ugly world, the pair demonstrate that there’s the badge and there’s always a rulebook but sometimes it’s the human being underneath that makes the difference and sometimes that human being has just got to scramble to get the job done.