The Night Fire by Michael Connelly: A Superfluity of Cases Hampers Connelly’s Latest

The Night Fire

The Night Fire

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #22/Renée Ballard, #3

Hardcover, 405 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2019

Read: November 1-4, 2019

…I’m not sure how much I can be involved.”

“You’re dumping this case on me. You changed my radio station and dumped the case on me.”

“No, I want to help and I will help. John Jack mentored me. He taught me the rule, you know?”

“What rule?”

“To take every case personally.”

“What?”

“Take every case personally and you get angry. It builds a fire. It gives you the edge you need to go the distance every time out.”

Ballard thought about that. She understood what he was saying but knew it was a dangerous way to live and work.

“He said ‘every case’?” she asked.

“‘Every case,'” Bosch said.

In The Night Fire Michael Connelly gives one more piece of evidence that yes, you can occasionally have too much of a good thing. We’ve got a little bit of a Mickey Haller case, something that Bosch works mostly on his own, something that Bosch and Ballard work together, a case that Ballard works mostly on her own, and then a hint of something else that Bosch primarily does solo. Plus there’s something about Bosch’s personal life and a dash of Maddie’s life. Which is all a lot to ask out of 405 pages.

It’s plenty to ask out of 650 pages, come to think of it. But anyway, let’s take a look, shall we?

Haller was drafted to defend an indigent man accused of murdering a judge, and is doing okay in the trial, but not well enough with things coming to an end. Bosch watched a little bit of the trial, waiting to talk to his half-brother and something strikes him wrong. So he takes a look at the files and gives Haller to think about. But it’s clear to Bosch that the LAPD isn’t going to act on anything they turn up, they’ve got their man. So if anyone’s going to expose the judge’s killer, it’s going to be Bosch. While it’s to be expected that the detectives that arrested Haller’s client would resent Bosch’s involvement with the defense—but Ballard is antagonistic toward the idea as well. Just because these two respect each other and can work with each other, they’re not clones, they don’t agree on a lot.

Ballard’s called to the scene of a homeless camp, where someone had burned to death in a tent fire. She’s just there as a precaution, in case the LAFD decides it’s arson (and therefore homicide) instead of an accident. Having been brushed off—and afraid that the LAFD will do the same to the case—she takes a little time to turn up enough evidence to justify treating the case as a homicide. Then she was promptly removed from the case, so her old team at RHD could work it. Naturally, like every character Connelly has ever created, Ballard walks away, right? Yeah, I can’t type that with a straight face—she cuts a corner or two and works the case herself, making better progress than anyone else does, too. This brings her into contact with her old antagonist, now-Captain Olivas. He’s close to retirement, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to her career after that.

But what gets the majority of the attention of the novel is the case that the Ballard and Bosch work together—Harry’s mentor (and father figure) has died and left him a murder book from 1990 that he’d, um, “borrowed” when he retired. John Jack wasn’t assigned to the case in 1990, it’s unclear that he did anything in 2000 when he took the file home. Bosch has no idea why he had it, but convinces Ballard to read it over and look into the case. They start working it, bringing them into contact with retired and not-retired gang members, digging up the past, and the question about why John Jack had taken the file.

Watching Connelly balance these mysteries/storylines is a treat—he does a great job of moving forward with each of them while bouncing back and forth between. I do think each case could’ve used 10-20% time than he gave them. But I could be wrong. They all wrap up satisfactorily, and There’s not a lot of time given for anything that isn’t case related, but we get a little bit. Both the personal material for Bosch (which is what he was waiting in court to talk to Haller about) and what we learn about Maddie make me really wonder what’s around their corners—and it appears we won’t learn anything in 2020 (unless we get a bit of an update in the Haller novel next year). Ballard’s material is always about her work primarily, but we do learn a little more about her life between her father’s death and her time with LAPD. I’m glad that Connelly hasn’t given us her whole biography, but man…what we have been given just makes me want more. Clearly, he’s making sure that fans of all three characters are going to have to come back for more as soon as he produces it.

I appreciated the discussion Bosch and Ballard had about some actions at the end of Dark Sacred Night, I have a friend who will rant at the drop of a hat about Ballard’s choices there (and I trust my email/text messages will get another one when he reads this post). I don’t think this conversation will satisfy him, but it’s good to see the pair acknowledge mistakes they made. While I don’t think either of them do anything quite as misguided in this book, but they both make a couple of reckless moves. Bosch’s always had a little bit of dirt on/leverage with superiors (even some history) to give him some coverage when he gets reckless. Ballard doesn’t. So when she goes maverick, it’s more nerve-wracking than it is when Bosch did/does it. A nice little bit of character work, and a good distinction between the two characters.

There’s a moment in every Michael Connelly novel, no matter how good it is, where something just clicks and suddenly I’m more invested in it than I am in almost any other book. I think I’ve talked about it before, but when That Moment hits—there’s nothing better. I get that with a lot of Thrillers/Mysteries (and even some books in other genres), but never as consistently as I do with Connelly. I knew that moment had hit when my phone told me it was time to put the book down and go into my office and I audibly groaned. How was I supposed to focus on anything else when Bosch and Ballard were on the hunt?

Lastly, and this is very likely going to be only a problem I had. Several right-hand pages in my copy that have very faint—practically missing—letters. It’s like it’d been left in the sun too long, or like when an inkjet printer is running out of ink. Please tell me that Little, Brown has better equipment than I do.

This isn’t the best Connelly can do, but man…it’s so good. Solidly put together, we get to spend time with all our favorites and it hits every button it’s supposed to. Connelly is one of the best around—The Night Fire shows why.


4 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly: Bosch takes on a new role, and gives the same solidly entertaining result.

The Wrong Side Of GoodbyeThe Wrong Side Of Goodbye

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #19

Paperback, 386 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2017
Read: June 20, 2018
Not shockingly at all, retirement doesn’t sit well for Harry Bosch. As we saw in The Crossing, neither does working for defense attorneys. So what’s a guy like Harry Bosch — with that strong sense of mission driving him for decades — to do with himself when the LAPD forces him to retire?

Naturally, he’s going to get a PI license and do what he can with. But there’s going to be a dearth of clients that want him to investigate the kind of crimes he’s driven to investigate. Thankfully, the San Fernando Police Department is suffering a horrible budget crises and can utilize him as a reserve police officer looking at cold cases (this is an actual thing that happens, and was suggested by a member of the SFPD to Connelly as something for Bosch). This is work for free, true, but anyone who thinks that Bosch is driven by money in any real sense hasn’t talked to him for five minutes.

Bosch is hired by an elderly billionaire (at least), to hunt down a potential heir to his empire — his family “forced” him to abandon a lower-class woman after he impregnated her in the 50’s, and now looking at his mortality rushing to meet him, he wants to pass things on to his heir. He doesn’t have much to give Harry to start from — a name, an employer, and a time frame. That’s it. He needs Harry to keep this to himself — and has him sign a very tight non-disclosure agreement — because he doesn’t trust anyone in the company he’s the head of. He’s right not to trust anyone, as Harry quickly learns, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

This case grabs Harry’s attention, particularly when he becomes convinced that he’s tracked down the heir — who served in Vietnam at the same time Harry did. In fact, Harry’s reasonably sure that they were briefly on the same ship at the same time. In addition to this being very interesting, watching Harry backtrack this man’s family — this focus on Vietnam gets Harry to reflect some on his time there, and even discuss a bit with Maddie. I think this is the most that Harry has talked about Vietnam since The Black Echo (feel free to correct me in the comments), and I appreciate reminding us where the character comes from.

As interesting as that is — both through the procedure Harry enacts, what’s revealed about the case and himself, plus the surprising amount of peril that beings to follow him — the other case that Harry’s looking into is more up his alley.

In the course of his duties as a reserve officer, he’s been looking through cases that haven’t been closed — the one he’s focused on now isn’t a murder (as you’d expect), but is a serial rapist. Between the way the cases were reported, the staffing problems SFPD has, some jurisdictional issues, and (most importantly) language barriers, it wasn’t until Harry started reading all the case files he could get his hands on that patterns started to emerge and a coherent picture of one criminal’s work became clear. The SFPD detective that Harry’s working with, Bella Lourdes, seems like a solid detective — probably not as obsessive as Harry, but a dedicated detective. She’s able to handle the interview side of things better than Harry, actually (see the language barrier, among other things). As things heat up with the other case, Harry can’t get away and Lourdes ends up carrying the water on vital aspects of this by herself. It’s one of the healthier partnerships Harry’s had, really. But don’t worry — at the end of the day, this is a Harry Bosch novel. Not a Harry and Bella. Harry’ll put all the pieces together — but not early enough to keep things from getting pretty harrowing for all involved.

MIckey Haller shows up briefly early on, and I thought “oh, that was a nice cameo.” But at some point, he becomes a strong supporting character — as important to the private client storyline as Lourdes was to the serial rapist. I appreciated the smooth way that Connelly merged Haller into this novel. But that’s not all — Harry spent a moment thinking about Jerry Edgar (is that the influence of the Amazon series, or just Harry getting retrospective?) and there was a completely unnecessary — but nice — little appearance by Det. Lucia Soto. Unnecessary to the plot, but it shows something about Harry, I think, that wouldn’t have described him a few books ago.

The mysteries themselves are a shade on the easy side for this series — but the fun in this comes from watching Bosch chip away, step by step, through the process. Sure, he cuts a corner or five, makes several lucky guesses — but we’re not looking for verisimilitude here, right?

That said, there were several moments in the latter third or so that I assumed I had everything worked out — and I was right as much as I was wrong. Connelly didn’t cheat, but he zagged a lot when I was sure he was going to zig. At this stage of the game, for Connelly to be able to fool me that often, that says plenty about his skill.*

A good ride for old fans — a decent (not excellent, but acceptable) place for a new reader to jump on — The Wrong Side of Goodbye capably demonstrates why Michael Connelly in general, and Harry Bosch in particular, has been at the top of the American Crime Fiction scene — and likely will stay there for quite some time.

*Sure, it could say something about me, and what kind of reader I am, but let’s give credit ot Connelly’s craft and not my gullibility, shall we?

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4 Stars

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

The CrossingThe Crossing

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #18

Mass Market Paperback, 384 pg.
Vision, 2016

Read: December 23 – 25, 2017


Harry Bosch has been forced into retirement, but he hasn’t lost sense of his mission — to find killers and make sure they are brought to justice. But he’s trying to fill his day with rebuilding and restoring an old Harley-Davidson. Which basically means that his half-brother, Mickey Haller, doesn’t have much work to do when he tries to convince Bosch to do some investigative work for his defense of an innocent man.

There is one huge hurdle — Bosch feels it’s a betrayal of everything he spent his career doing. Haller assures him that anything that hurts his case that they find they’ll turn over to the prosecution, which helps. But what really gets Bosch on board is his mission — if Haller is correct and his client is innocent, that means the guilty are going free and that just doesn’t sit well with him. So after meeting with client and reading through the file, Bosch jumps to the other side, something he knows he’ll never be able to live down, and that will burn some bridges with his former colleagues.

Bosch has to learn to work without the badge — how to access people, places and information (and parking!) without the LAPD standing behind him. But the essence is still the same, follow the evidence, make sure there are no loose ends, and adapt quickly — but now there’s less bureaucracy, and less of a need to justify following a hunch.

I loved seeing Bosch fighting his instincts to open up to the police, to want to hand things over to them whenever he can, rather than to keep information for Haller to use at trial. Bosch just can’t think of defending someone, his focus is all offense. I had a little trouble believing how little communication there was between the two during Bosch’s work — and, really, I wanted to see more of Haller — but I think a lot of that had to do with Bosch’s guilt over working for the accused and his different perspective about what to do with his suspicions about someone else.

There’s some great stuff with Maddie — Bosch is trying so hard to be a good father, but just doesn’t understand everything his daughter’s going through on the verge of high school graduation. He knows exactly how to get a witness (however reluctant) or a suspect to talk, he understands just what makes them tick, but his daughter is so frequently a mystery to him. I know some didn’t like Maddie’s addition to the series, but I love the interaction between the two.

At this point, I don’t need to talk about Connelly’s skill — that’s more than evident to anyone who’s read more than 20 pages of one of his 30-ish books. What we have here is the latest way he’s found to keep Bosch fresh, to keep the series from repeating itself. And it works so well — crisp writing, perfectly paced, not a word wasted, and a resolution that’ll satisfy fans of Bosch and Haller. I’ve been kicking myself for not getting to The Crossing when it was first released, and I’m more than happy I’ve found the time to read it — it’s so good to spend time with Bosch again. This will work for readers new or old — as long as they’re looking for a strong detective story.

—–

4 Stars

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

The Gods of GuiltThe Gods of Guilt

by Michael Connelly
Series: Mickey Haller, #5

Mass Market Paperback, 464 pg.
Vision, 2014
Read: January 1 – 6, 2015

Getting a not-guilty verdict was a long shot. Even when you knew in your gut that you were sitting next to an innocent man at the defense table, you also knew that the NGs came grudgingly from a system designed only to deal with the guilty.

Which is why most novels about lawyers are about defense lawyers — there’s more drama when they win (Mickey’s cynicism/realism also says something about our judicial system — but that’s a matter for another kind of blog). Note how little time Rachel Knight, the prosecutor, spends in court in her novels.

But from Perry Mason to Ben Matlock to Andy Carpenter to the real life attorneys, we want to read about and watch defense attorneys. We want to see them work within (and outside) the system, up to the point where the jury, the “Gods of Guilt” decide the fate of the defendant. Sometimes these “Gods” choose correctly, sometimes not. We rarely think of the consequences of these verdicts — in fiction, we almost never see them.

This novel is practically all about those consequences — and the events spiraling out of them. Almost a decade ago, Mickey Haller used some information one of his client’s possessed to get her a good deal. Which worked out nicely for all concerned (except the guy she had the information about), until she winds up dead — after telling her accused killer that if he’s in legal trouble, Mickey Haller is the only name to call.

Mickey’s dealing with some more immediate consequences — a man he successfully defended went on to get drunk and run down an innocent mother and child. Mickey’s blamed for this — which derails his D.A. campaign and derails his relationship with his daughter (who knew one of the victims).

So, when Mickey is presented with a prospective client he believes is innocent, he grabs at the chance for a little public and familial redemption. But before these “Gods” can weigh in, there’s a long road to be walked, prices to pay, deals to be made, and secrets to uncover.

I’d forgotten how slow these books start — Connelly’s masterful and putting the pieces together in a way that makes the ending seem inevitable — once you get there. But man, at times the build up can bog you down. Sure, there were other things going on — but it took me 3 days to get through the first 200-250 pages, and then 1 day for the next 150-200, because as slow as things start — when it all starts to come together, it’s a smooth and fast ride.

Aside from the twisty and tricky plot, is, of course, character — which is really what brings readers back to this kind of series. And there’s a lot to think about in this one.

For one, there’s the new character, David “Legal” Siegel, Mickey’s father’s law partner. He’s living in a fairly totalitarian retirement home (probably for good reason, not that Legal or Mickey seem to care), but still has fantastic defense instincts and helps Mickey and his associate, Jennifer Aronson, with some of their more clever strategies. He’s a fun addition to the cast, and I hope to see more of him.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with Jennifer Aronson’s characterization. I don’t care how new she is to the whole criminal defense thing, there’s no way that someone with any kind of experience — or a TV — needs to have the concept of “burner phone” explained. I get that Jennifer Aronson needs to have some things explained to her — and the reader via Aronson — but c’mon, really? Still, it’s good to see Mickey mentoring someone, and having someone else in the firm to do some legwork does open up narrative possibilities for future novels. Although, Mickey keeps talking about Aronson leaving him and being more successful than him — is this Connelly setting up a spin-off series?

Cisco, Earl, Lorna 2 and Maggie were along as well — nothing both notable and not-spoilery to say about them. They played their narrative roles well, and as they should. There’s a notable exception to this, but can’t talk about it now.

Naturally, the focus is on Micky Haller, in the courtroom (and associated areas), he’s a shark. He’s a pro. He’s a wiz. And he knows it — which sometimes makes you groan, other times you relish it. Connelly’s honest enough to make Mickey’s confidence come back to bite him — it happened once during this trial, and even though I pretty much saw it coming, I still gave him a sympathetic wince. There was another point where I was actually talking back to the book, begging Mickey not to be so cocky. Fairly sure that things were going so well for him that he would screw things up with a witness/suspect.

As (almost) always, his personal life is in shambles. Mickey’s relationship with his daughter, Hayley, is always one of the more endearing aspects of this series, and to see the estrangement between them is rough. Connelly isn’t a guy that typically gets emotional reactions (other than suspense, and satisfaction from victory) from a reader — but Mickey having to covertly watch his daughter’s soccer practice through binoculars? No way that doesn’t tug on a heart string (while you hope no one catches him in the act and thinks he’s some sort of predator).

Throughout The Gods of Guilt there’s a Palpable sense of loneliness to Mickey, he’s always looking for people to be watching him in court. Thanks to the election loss, the DUI, etc. people’s perceptions of him are really damaged, really negative. All Mickey wants is someone, anyone really, to see him doing well, to see him doing something good. Sure, it’s better if it’s someone he cares about seeing him do that, however, and he’s always looking for it.

Naturally, things wrap up in a satisfying manner, and then we’re treated to one of the best closing paragraphs that Connelly’s written (if not the best, and he’s written too many of them for this lazy blogger to verify). The last four paragraphs cement in the reader’s mind just what kind of person the Lincoln Lawyer really is beneath the headlines, the courtroom antics, and the car.

A slow-burn of a read, like I said, but once you reach the tipping point, the reader is hanging on every word — just like the jury, Mickey’s Gods of Guilt are to the drama unfolding before them.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Dusted Off: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

The Fifth WitnessThe Fifth Witness

by Michael Connelly
Series: Mickey Haller, #4

Mass Market Paperback, 448 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2011
Read: May 8-9, 2012

When we finally got to the trial portion of this novel (the rest is just foreplay, anyway, right?) I found myself thinking–could Perry Mason have handled this D.A.? (and conversely, what fun it would be to watch Hamilton Burger try to deal with Mickey [and yes, I remembered Burger’s name despite it being 2 decades since I’ve read an Erle Stanley Gardner novel, don’t ask how]). That’s just how good Haller is–at the end of the day, he’s better than the Gold Standard.

A tense mystery, dazzling courtroom tactics (on both sides), a client and supporting cast that add rather than detract from the main characters and an ending you really can’t see coming. That’s just the kind of writer Michael Connelly is, a guy at the top of his game.

I’m not sure that I’m totally on board with the direction that Mickey is headed in at the end of the book, but I’m confident it’ll take no more than 15 pages of the next installment for Connelly to convince me.

—–

4 Stars