The Narrows by Michael Connelly
Review by Ron DeSourdis

Author Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch started his long literary career as a member of the LAPD (in 1992's The Black Echo) and spent the remainder of the decade in that capacity. At the time, I felt that Bosch's persona as a dark, brooding loner haunted by memories of his Vietnam service and hampered in his idealism by the authorities and bureaucrats of the official law enforcement community) was almost too much the P.I. stereotype for the character to ever be successfully cast in that role.

Connelly evidently disagreed. In City of Bones (2002), Harry quit the force, taking with him a box full of his unsolved case files. The private investigator's license he obtained at that time apparently also included a license to narrate his adventures in the first person, as the two ensuing Bosch novels both are told in this fashion. As David White indicates in his review on these pages of the preceding episode, Lost Light, Bosch now seems to feel obligated to blather on about his "life's mission" to fight evildoers. This might be fine if he were running for President, but, although the attitude itself may be essential to the creation of the perfect fictional hardboiled sleuth, it is probably best left unspoken.

My own discomfort with Bosch's new storytelling mode is compounded by the fact that in The Narrows it alternates, sometimes within individual chapters, with the story as told in the third person when the action revolves around FBI agent Rachel Walling (from Connelly's 1996 standalone novel The Poet). I'm not sure how common this device has become (this is the second book I've read in recent months in which it is used), but I find it somewhat awkward and distracting. Otherwise, this author does what he does best: brings life to all his characters, from stars to bit players, builds momentum until a literally breathless action climax, and keeps the mystery unwinding until the very end.

Besides FBI agent Rachel Walling and her nemesis Robert Backus, The Narrows also calls into play (from Blood Work) Terry McCaleb (in name only), his wife Graciela and his eager if fairly insufferable pal Buddy Lockhart. Even Void Moon's Cassie Black makes a cameo appearance, although she is nearly unrecognizable, and of no importance (or even relation) to the plot. Presumably we will be seeing her in the near future in an outing of her own.

The story: Bosch is contacted by Graciela McCaleb, who has reason to believe that her husband's death was not due to the natural causes everyone else assumes. Terry, a former G-man who never let his retirement stop him from working, had looked into a number of recent murder cases, and his files provide Bosch with a starting point for his own investigation. Soon he is soon headed for Las Vegas

Meanwhile, G-woman Rachel Walling has been called in from the hinterlands where she had been exiled after losing the serial killer she had tracked down years earlier. This time, his victims are straying husbands taking a final walk on the wild side in one of Nevada's legal brothels

It is only a matter of time before Agent Walling's insight and Harry's instinct lead them towards the inevitable collision, and unofficial cooperation.

The story proper is deadly serious, but throughout there is a more lighthearted tone than was prevalent in Connelly's earlier Bosch novels. As when Bosch listens to Buddy gripe about his own character in the movie version of Blood Work; a rather charming domestic scene involving Harry, his ex-wife Eleanor Wish, and their young daughter; or a bit of name-dropping when Bosch confers with the owner of a mystery bookstore which the detective suspects may be the scene of the next crime:

Overall, despite reservations about the narrative style, The Narrows is a fast-paced, rewarding read, and I look forward to the next appearance of Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, Even though Connelly indicates that he will be back as a member of LA's finest, and that his PI days are over.

I won't say I told you so.

The Narrows
By Michael Connelly
Little Brown & Company, 2004
404 pages
Buy this book

Review submitted by Ron DeSourdis, June 2004.

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