Saturday, 9 May 2009

MICHAEL CONNELLY'S SCARECROW

Jack McAvoy, the crime reporter who made his name chasing the serial killer called The Poet, is about to lose his job at the Los Angeles Times. Approached by the grandmother of a 16 year old drug dealer who swears her boy is innocent, he decides cynically to use them as the springboard to a story, not proving his innocence, but exposing his tragedy as a young murderer, that might win him a valedictory Pulitzer. Only then he begins to think that young Alonzo might indeed be innocent, and what looked like the rape and murder of a young woman in a drug deal might be something far more sinister.

Once again, McAvoy finds himself on the trail of a serial killer, this time one who has managed to avoid even being recognised as one, and he discovers that the killer is using and manipulating information gathered in cyber-space. This is the eponymous Scarecrow. And soon McAvoy's once again linked up with FBI agent Rachel Walling, who since the Poet's demise has also been involved with LAPD detective Harry Bosch, and battling both his own newspaper and official indifference to the real crimes. Since most of Connelly's work is built around loneliness, around the difficulty of relationships, the vulnerability of individuals linked to the world by their computers is accentuated here, and the myopia of journalists similarly linked to the real world, at a remove, runs parallel to that.

You could look at the Scarecrow himself as representing the new media that has threatened McAvoy's job; he's being replaced by a younger journalist fluent in twitter and blogging, the paper is groaning as circulation and ad revenue is lost to online alternatives. At the same time, the politics of the newsroom have become even more competitive; papers are folding all across America as the recession puts even more ad revenue in doubt, and they flounder to find alternatives to the traditional business model. In that world, McAvoy remains a square peg; at times he seems like a reporter who could have wandered in from a Carl Hiassen novel, but being Connelly, there's always something darker lurking beneath his notebook. It's all the more impressive because it is set against the collapsing world of newspapers, and in many ways is Connelly's elegy to his roots as a reporter.

Michael Connelly has written 21 novels in the past 16 years, and The Poet was the one that boosted him from a critical and cult favorite to a best-seller. His 'stand-alone' novels have been interesting because not only are they different in style and tone from the Harry Bosch books, even though they sometimes intersect with them, but they differ from each other. The Lincoln Lawyer seemed like a deliberate attempt at a courtroom thriller, a move into Grishamt territory which he pulled off with aplomb. You might look at The Scarecrow as a similarly successful attempt to essay the territory marked off by, say, Lee Child, and the story builds suspense it simplifies itself, as those thrillers do, to deliver a powerful climax. McAvoy is an appealing character, more the optimist than Harry Bosch; his outward cynicism is a journalist's shield. His first-person narration is convincing, it is the voice of a journalist writing a true-crime book. It too has a contrast: the Scarecrow's own point of view, and that contrast is chilling. It's impressive that Connelly can switch gears so fluidly; The Scarecrow shows that there's very little in the genre that's beyond his talents.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly Orion £18.99 ISBN 9780752875859

NOTE: This review also appears at Crime Time: www.crimetime.co.uk

2 comments :

maxine said...

Can't wait for this one! I have long been a fan of Michael Connelly and read all his books (I think he'd written two or three when I first discovered him). However, though Harry, Terry and Mickey are quite clear in my mind, I have trouble remembering Jack McAvoy (though I know I have read The Poet). I hope that won't matter too much when I finally get hold of a copy of Scarecrow. The author will be at Crime Fest next week so I'm looking forward to hearing him there. Will you be going?

Michael Carlson said...

No I won't, but I will try to put the interview up before it starts, OK?