Reviews

THE BLACK ECHO (Harry Bosch #1), by Michael Connelly

 

For quite some time now I have been thinking about branching out of my preferred “stomping ground” focused on speculative fiction, not so much because of reader fatigue but rather for a healthy change of pace through a more varied choice of reading material.  In the past, besides SFF, I’ve always enjoyed books in the thriller/crime niche, and I’ve recently marked as interesting several titles in these genres that were showcased by my fellow bloggers, but what really compelled me to finally turn those good resolutions into reality was a tv series.  In the past I had noticed, in the customer suggestions from Amazon Prime Video, the series Bosch and at some point during the lockdown months I decided to take a look: in the space of a handful of episodes I was won over by the story and characters, so that once I discovered they were based on a series of books by Michael Connelly, I decided that my new “reading adventure” would start there – and it turned out to be an inspired choice, indeed.

Mr. Connelly’s successful series focuses on the character of Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a L.A.P.D. detective whose dogged determination in solving cases equals only his total disregard for departmental politics, which makes him quite unpopular with the powers that be and always on the brink of dismissal. In this first case, Bosch is called on the scene of what looks like a death by overdose, and only a few conflicting details and the fact that he knows the victim – a former comrade, and like Bosch a Vietnam vet – will drive the detective to investigate deeper into what is beyond doubt a murder staged like an accidental death. Despite the inherent difficulties and the bureaucratic obstacles in his path, Harry pursues the elusive evidence that leads him to discover a long-planned, convoluted heist that will not only put him against well-organized masterminds and unfriendly co-workers, but will force him to face some of the demons of his past.

One of the most noticeable differences between the tv series and the book is of course the time setting: while the former takes place in the present, the latter – published in 1992 – is set some 30 years in the past and this accounts for the lack of some elements we have come to take for granted, like cell phones, easy internet searches or information merge between law enforcement databases. Still, this does not detract from the story in any way, and one of its major themes – the predicament of overseas wars’ veterans, who come back home and struggle to reclaim their place in society – is as actual now as it was back then. What I found truly unsettling, however, was the protagonist’s chain smoking: it’s not just that now we are more aware of the dangers inherent in smoking than we were back then, just as it’s not only that as a reformed smoker (I’m proud to say that I quit in 1982 and never relapsed) I now look at it as a ghastly habit – there was so much virtual cigarette smoke in the book that I often felt the need to air the room…. 😀

Apart from these minor distractions, The Black Echo proved to be a very compelling read, one that blends intriguing characterization and an interesting plot that managed to surprise me at several turns, encouraging me to look for the other books in the series: this is Michael Connelly’s debut novel, and it shows already a firm grasp of pace and characterization, so that I know I can only expect the rest of his works to keep improving from this remarkable starting point.

Storywise, I found the depiction of the city of Los Angeles quite intriguing: forget the glamor that’s part and parcel of the world’s entertainment capital, forget the endless, palm-lined avenues and the beaches where beautiful people laze in the sun – here you will get to know the dirty, shabby, ugly face of the city, its graffiti-stained walls, its concrete drainage ditches and the abandoned pipes where the homeless and the dregs of society take refuge. This far from rosy view of L.A. is mirrored by the stark depiction of a police department more focused on bureaucracy and internal politics than in crime-solving work: at some point we learn about Bosch’s partner’s alternate activity as a real estate agent, a job that gets more attention and energies than the man devotes to his primary one.  This is the main reason that sets Bosch apart from most of his colleagues: he’s grimly determined to go to the bottom of things, to bring justice to the victims, and he does so with a dogged persistence that stems from an event in his past, one that’s mentioned in passing here and will certainly come to dominate his attitude as the story moves forward.

What is interesting is that while Bosch’s dedication is admirable, he’s not portrayed as the proverbial square-jawed, unblemished hero: on the contrary he’s a deeply flawed individual – a lone wolf rather than a team player – one who seems to go out of his way to keep people at a distance or to be unpleasant, as if he enjoys aggravating them.  This aspect of his character is in synch with the overall noir atmosphere of the story, evident in the often blunt prose that nonetheless manages to be vividly descriptive. There is a darkness in Bosch’s soul that both keeps him apart from the rest of humanity and compels him to look in places others prefer to ignore: the book’s title refers to a feeling he experienced as a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam, the sensation of the darkness coming alive in those stifling, claustrophobic spaces – he lost something of himself in those tunnels, and only facing his fears he might find it again. There is a passage in the novel where we get a glimpse of Bosch’s mindset through the description of a painting that fascinates him, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks:

 

 

He mostly sees himself as the man sitting alone on one side of the counter, but there is a part of his mind that hopes he might be the other guy, the one sitting alongside the woman: it’s this drive toward normality, coexisting with his cynical acceptance of reality, that makes him such a fascinating character whose exploration is just as intriguing as that of the mysteries he needs to solve.

As a first foray into new “territory”, The Black Echo proved to be a very encouraging attempt, and it will certainly not be the last in this compelling series.

 

 

My Rating:

26 thoughts on “THE BLACK ECHO (Harry Bosch #1), by Michael Connelly

  1. Ooo… haven’t seen Bosch – I’ll check it out! A great review, Maddalena. As for cigarette smoking – I recall as a small child in the early 60s playing under the kitchen table with the adults – my grandparents, mother, father and uncle all smoking. And there was a thick blue haze in the air…

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  2. I haven’t watched the show or read the book, but I’m well aware of these books. You’ve just made it very tempting to pick one up! Concrete Blond is the title of one that sticks with me. And yes, the smoking! I know smoking is bad but seeing characters smoke tends to make me nostalgic for some reason. No one in my family smoked, but I remember when you used to be able to smoke in restaurants and on planes😬

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    1. This being the author’s debut, it was a solid, gripping read, so I can only imagine it will keep getting better as the books pile up – and the show is an interesting one, not just because of the intriguing characterization but for the narrative arc that takes up each season instead of offering simpler episodic “investigations” 🙂

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  3. I am so glad you enjoyed this one! I am a big fan of Bosch! 😍 I watched the first season of the TV series and I enjoyed it, but I am really hard to please, and I prefer the books (at least the old one, the newest aren’t bad but aren’t so good either), anyway I am really happy you enjoyed both the book and the TV series, and reading your review was a real pleasure!

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  4. Yes, I too have been exploring the thriller/mystery/crime genre – it’s a nice break from the usual SFF! I can see how a TV series can pull you in too! I haven’t heard of Bosch, but now I’m inspired to check it out as well as this series 😀

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    1. The tv series is quite addictive – I’m trying to pace myself and often failing…
      And the books, at least judging from this first one, might have the same effect on me, since I acquired the second one even before finishing the first! 🙂

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  5. Hahahahha Bosch was coup de coeur for me back in high school! I read his books translated to French but ever since I started book blogging, I have been meaning to revisit them in English. I’m really glad to see such positive thoughts on it. The TV series did seem intriguing too when first announced but I think I stayed away out of fear that it would be generic since it came out around when Amazon Prime was still new and not too popular! Great review, Maddalena! 😀

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    1. Thanks!
      I would encourage you to try the TV series because it’s done well, with good pacing, good acting and a story arc that takes the entire season, instead of the usual episodic format of the genre. This first book turned out to be a compelling read, and I will certainly look for the other ones… 🙂

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  6. AHHH!!! EVERY ONE SEEMS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS SERIES EXCEPT MEEE!! I feel so deprived! 😦 And your review is making me eager to start this series asap and frustrated because I CANNOT start it right now because I already have a MOUND of tbr pile to get through! THIS IS UNFAIR! 😦

    AND ITS A TV SERIES TOOO??! Fuck. Now I can’t watch THAT until I read it and it’s just…GAHH! Loved reading your review AS ALWAYS but…:( I AM SAD NOW!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, please, don’t be sad! You can start with the TV series – the easiest way, IMHO – and then take your time with the books: from what I understand, the show’s plots take bits from various books, so watching and reading will turn out to be very different journeys. And I hope you enjoy both! 🙂

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      1. Ohhh?! That true?! *relieved* no honestly, having read your awesome review + others’ comments about how good the series is I just…I WANNA BE IN THE GANG TOOO!! 🤣🤣

        Definitely going to watch the series! ❤️

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  7. Glad you enjoyed this! I really need to branch out my reading more too. I like a good thriller/crime novel once in a while, but I really have to be in the mood for it. Maybe will keep this one in mind. 🙂

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  8. This is a series that has always appealed to me – probably becuase of the author, but the sheer number of books involved and how very far behind I am. I shall look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the books.
    Lynn 😀

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    1. Indeed 22 books (so far…) look like a very daunting prospect, but since I intend to approach them as a form of intermission between my usual kinds of read, it does not feel like an impossible task. That is, when I don’t take into account the dimensions of my TBR… 😀

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