A new Harry Bosch novel is always an event (see photo). In The Wrong Side Of Goodbye Harry has found himself a bolthole. Having sued LAPD over his dismissal, and won, he's now working cold cases part-time and unpaid for the tiny San Fernando department, an arrangement that allows him the freedom to take private assignments as well. So when he's approached by a former LAPD colleague now working a lucrative security gig, he accepts $10,000 to visit the reclusive aircraft billionaire Whitney Vance in his Pasadena mansion. It's a scene redolent of the opening of The Big Sleep, with almost as much sad nostalgia. Vance had a young love while he was at university, breaking away from his family and studying film, shades of Howard Hughes. She was a Mexican named Vibiana who worked in the school cafeteria. When she got pregnant, Vance's father sent people to take care of her; she disappeared from his life. Vance transferred to Cal Tech and took over the family business. Sixty-five years later, Vance is dying and wants to know if he has actually left an heir.
Meanwhile Harry and his partner, Bella Lourdes, are investigating the Screen Cutter, a serial rapist who cuts screen doors to enter houses and rape Latina-looking women who happen to be ovulating. Harry's concerned that such attacks tend to escalate in ferocity as well as frequency.
What's particularly interesting here is the way the cases create echoes of each other but never actually intersect in the way readers so often might expect them to do. They also echo much of the Bosch history as well: the novel opens with a scene recalling Bosch's own time in Vietnam, as a helicopter built by Vance crashes there on a rescue mission; a dying soldier's last word is 'Vibiana'. His relationship with his daughter Maddie, who's lost her mother, reflects the issues of parenting and motherhood in both cases. And Harry's still facing antipathy from LAPD over his lawsuit; he is viewed as a traitor by many cops. And when Vance dies, the search for an heir becomes one with multi-billion dollar stakes, and Harry can trust no one, least of all the man who put the job his way. There are even echoes of Raynard Waits from Echo Park, and the clever merging of that novel with City of Bones in the Bosch TV series.
This isn't as intense as the very best of the Bosch novels, rather it's more diffuse and layered. Early on I noticed something slightly different in the narrative, the way Harry's perceptions were revealing so much depth, observations of the unseen as well as the seen. Connelly has always been an excellent reporter in his writing, here I was struck by the way he'd seemed to move beyond that somewhat. Which is necessary, because the stories, both of which are complex, move with a relentless drive which could easily allow readers to miss crucial details. Not plot points, necessarily, but those of character, of nuance, which keep you involved even as you get caught up in the stories. In fact, as the pace increases, the depth of detail slows down, so the finish almost seems rushed. It is a long novel, nearly 400 pages, and in an afterword Connelly thanks his editors, implying the original ms was even longer.
In a positive way, I thought this might be considered his first post-Bosch TV novel. It's almost as if Connelly has melded two separate novels into one, in the same way the series combined elements of multiple novels together. Usually, people drawn to series novels from TV are advised to start at the beginning; although this is an older Bosch, in a different setting, with different supporting cast, this would be a novel viewers of the series would recognise immediately. I would have been happy to see it run longer; there was room not only in the plot elements but also for reflection, and as I suggested above, this is a reflective book behind its narrative drive. And beyond musings on the excellence of the LA Dodgers' baseball announcer Vin Scully, who is retiring as this story takes place; even Scully's name-check mirrors part of Bosch's story-- would he could continue as long as Scully did!
The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
Orion £19.99 ISBN 9781409145530
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)