MICHAEL CONNELLY: BATTING A THOUSAND

Reviews by Rick McMahan (7 August, 1997)
Trunk Music by Michael Connelly, 383 pages, Little Brown Publishing, 1997, $23.95

Anyone who knows me, can undoubtedly attest to how much I like Michael Connelly’s mystery novels, particularly his Harry Bosch novels. For me, there are a few authors who I admire, respect, and envy their writing ability; the way they put a story together and then how they spin it, making me as the reader, just move along, reading page after page, totally enthralled. Those authors that sweep me up into their milieu, the world they’ve created, are those authors who I anxiously await their next novel and buy it as soon as it hits the bookstores. Not waiting for paperback and not even waiting for the 10-30% discount some major bookstores will put on bestsellers a month after they’ve been released. Most of the time, I’ll grumble about how expensive a hardback book is, but I gladly pay full price for Michael Connelly’s works.

After his last book, The Last Coyote, I was probably not alone among Harry Bosch fans in wondering what Michael Connelly could do with the LAPD detective. Where could Harry go next? After all, he had solved several hard murders, pitting him against the criminals, the bureaucracy of the police department, and even pitting his love and emotions against his belief that every crime must be solved (Black Echo and Black Ice). He had even revisited the famous Dollmaker case which had sent Harry to the dregs of Hollywood Homicide from the prized tables of Robbery/Homicide Downtown (The Concrete Blonde). Then Harry solved his own mother’s murder in The Last Coyote. What more could Harry Bosch do?

To be honest, I felt that when The Poet, Connelly’s first non-Bosch novel, came out that maybe the author had run out of ideas or decided to switch to a new series. When I saw the advertisement in flyers for the next Harry Bosch novel, Trunk Music, I felt excitement and trepidation. I wanted to be on the hunt with Harry Bosch again, but at the same time, I was afraid this novel would not be up to par of the last four books. Silly me.

The moment I opened Trunk Music, there it was---the distinctive voice and style all Michael Connelly’s, pure Harry Bosch. As Aerosmith likes to scream in one of their songs, Harry Bosch was, "Back in the saddle again." I was quickly sucked in. Along with Harry’s on again off-again partner, Edgars, there are two new characters. One is the young and smart lady homicide detective who Harry recognizes is already being groomed for Parker Center. Another interesting character is Lt. Billets. For the first time Harry has an ally as a supervisor. This is Harry’s first time back to work after his suspension in The Last Coyote.

The dead body is a B-Movie maker who’s found executed in the trunk of his Rolls. The murder has the markings of a Mob hit, but LAPD’s Organized Crime Unit avoids the case like the plague. Harry’s investigation takes him through the maze of territorial jealousies of his own department’s organized crime unit to the infamous heavy handedness of the FBI. While following the investigation to Las Vegas, it also leads Harry back to Eleanor Wish, the ex-FBI agent from The Black Echo, who broke his heart.

To say there are complications, twists, and turns in a Michael Connelly novel would be a mere understatement. And for me to say anymore about this book would be to spoil your fun. All I will say is that fans of Harry Bosch will not be disappointed by Trunk Music.

The Life and Death of Bobby Zby Don Winslow, 259 pages, Knopf Books, 1997, $22.00

Most people who read any genre of fiction are finicky. Just because a book is in a mystery section or has mystery written on the spine of the book doesn’t mean it will be something I will like. I’m particular about the type of mysteries and thrillers I like. There are so many books on the shelves, classics and new faces on the block, it’s sometimes hard to make a decision. Everyone has their own system. Some people read what others recommend. Others diligently read book reviews. I’ve even know of a person who has to like the jacket cover to read the book. For me, it’s a combination of the synopsis on the back of the book combined with reading the first few pages in the bookstore. And also, sometimes, who has given advanced praise for the book. Yup, you guessed it, if I see Michael Connelly writing a blurb for a novel, I am highly inclined to read it. Recently, I read two books which Connelly recommended on their cover blurbs, The Death and Life of Bobby Z and Shooters, both different books but both well written.

The Death and Life of Bobby Z is Don Winslow’s first novel. The premise is what happens if you’re a small time criminal locked up and you just happen to look like Southern California’s yuppie doper king? Well, that is exactly what happens. Tim Kearney is facing a limited life in the penal system after killing a biker in the yard, but then the DEA comes to him with the proposition. They’ll make Tim Kearney die in prison and wipe his slate clean, if Tim will agree to go undercover posing as the notorious Bobby Z. It seems a Mexican drug lord has a DEA agent hostage, and the Mexican wants to trade the DEA agent for Bobby Z, who the DEA arrested outside the country. Unfortunately Bobby Z is dead; mortality caught up with him in the form of a heart-attack as the DEA were bringing him back outside of the country for the exchange. So all Tim Kearney has to do is pull off acting like he’s Bobby Z until the exchange is accomplished in some desolate desert. Then he can cross the desert and take off. There’s a small problem. It seems that there are just as many people who want Bobby Z to be dead. Quite a complication, huh? It wouldn’t be a fun read if it was easy.

Winslow has a unique style. His scenes are sketched in sparseness, achieving the desired effect of setting a scene in very few words. He’s able to capture and make the characters come alive in his unique style and the very realistic way he writes character dialogue.

Shooters by Terrill Lankford, 224 pages, Forge Press, 1997, $20.95

Rooting through bookstores is like gold digging, sometimes you just sit up and find something well hidden. Grisham and Clancy novels are piled high enough in every store to build several local city court houses, but new authors may get one or two books shoved on a shelf in the back of the store. Unfortunately, some good books die from neglect by the publishers and bookstore owners when they fail to promote newer authors. I had never heard or seen Terrill Lankford’s book Shooters, until I happened to walk into a small bookstore. The unique cover caught my eye. The jacket synopsis was intriguing, and when people like James Ellroy, Robert B. Parker, and (you guessed it) Michael Connelly all write such hot praise for the book, you have to stop and give the book a second look. I wanted to see what was so good about this little book I had never seen.

In Shooters, Lankford is able to meld the glitz of Hollywood photography with the dark and grittiness of noire novels from the past. Nick Gardner has everything a guy could want. He’s the hottest fashion photographer in LA. He’s got a ritzy house, expensive cars, and women who’ll vie for his attention, but when the novel starts out his thoughts ring hollow. Not hollow sounding, but resounding hollow and empty, a man missing something and he knows it. Nick allows himself one of his compulsive and intimate flings with someone he meets at one of the endless parties. The problem is that the next morning the woman is dead. Not just dead but butchered and dismembered and stuffed in a dumpster in front of Nick’s house. Simply, Nick’s in a world of shit and no one believes he’s innocent. Specters of his past come back to haunt him and he sees how quickly people distance themselves from him. With very little to go on, other than his knowledge he is innocent, Nick needs to find out who killed the woman and who set him up to take the fall.

Lankford’s writing is gritty, fast moving, and very dark. Damn, it’s good. The ending is not the ending I wanted, but it was the right ending. It had to end the way it does.

Three for three, I’d say Michael Connelly is doing quite well. He authored one excellent book and picked two other winners to put his name on. Whether Connelly’s name is in the by-line of the book or on the jacket recommending it, I’d say that you are in good hands with Connelly’s choices, both as a writer and a fan of mysteries.


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