It's interesting that, when Michael Connelly decides to show us Harry Bosch at his most personal, he brings us back closer to the Bosch we originally met many years ago. In Nine Dragons, the kidnapping of Bosch's daughter in Hong Kong drives him into a situation which resembles Bosch's Vietnam War days as a tunnel rat, and takes pains to mention it, for the benefit of newer readers. Bosch has always been a character with tunnel vision, and it's almost paradoxical the way one of the few things which helps humanize him, his daughter, also causes him to revert to the old Bosch, often shooting first and considering questions later.
It is, on the face of it, a simple case of murder, a Chinese shopkeeper shot by the man who collects his payoff to the triads. But no sooner has Bosch arrested the supposed killer, than his daughter, living in Hong Kong with her mother, a professional gambler, is kidnapped, and Harry is on the next plane to the East. From that point, what had been a straight-forward police tale most interesting for Bosch's conflicts with both his partner and a detective on the Asian Gang Unit, becomes a fast-paced thriller. It's somewhat superficial, in the sense that the Hong Kong through which Bosch moves will be very familiar to anyone with even a casual knowledge, for example the Chungking Hotel, but it's also an extremely effective bit of internal scene-setting: Bosch's focus growing narrower and narrower, always threatening to exclude his ex-wife Eleanor and her Chinese lover.
The third part, where the loose ends of the story are resolved is a different thing altogether. Bosch's attempts to patch up the cracks in his business relationships, and to provide the care his daughter needs, are difficult enough. Mickey Haller appears to help make the loose ends neat, and Bosch meets his approaches (they are, as we have learned in the Haller books, half-brothers) only half-way. But the case takes a twist that Connelly first hints at, but Bosch only discovers through new forensics: an odd and rare bit of CSI triumphing over old coppering. And just as the reader is considering that, and whether it might have been more suspenseful or tricky, Connelly turns the tables again with a final twist which even the most hardened crime buff probably won't see coming, but which makes perfect sense in the context of what this novel is, at heart, about. Connelly, like Bosch, seems to move more and more determinedly through each new idea, but his novelistic vision certainly isn't tunnelling. Far from it. There are few novelists out there who can produce such compelling fiction so consistently.
Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly
Orion, £18.99 ISBN 9780752875873
This review will also appear at Crime Time: www.crimetime.co.uk