When a book series hits the double digit number of installments it can sometimes fall victim to reader fatigue, or to repetition, but such is definitely not the case with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, at least not for me. I found myself at book 12 of this long-running series, faced with one narrative thread already explored in the TV show that led me to these books, and yet my immersion in the story never faltered for a single moment, confirming once again that the author’s skills are such that he can ensnare his readers with a masterful mix of action, mystery and character development. And keep doing so again and again.
In Echo Park, Bosch goes back to one of the unsolved cases that still haunt him, that of Marie Gesto, a young woman who disappeared more than ten years prior and whose body was never found – only her neatly folded clothes were discovered inside an abandoned car, and the lack of further clues prevented the investigators from successfully closing the case. No one is more surprised than Bosch to be called by the office of the District Attorney for an unexpected development: a man has been recently apprehended with the remains of a victim inside his van, and eager to commute the death penalty with a life sentence the killer, whose name is Raynard Waits, is ready to indicate the location for the bodies of other so far undisclosed victims – among them that of Marie Gesto.
The fly in this very intriguing ointment is that at the time of the original investigation Bosch and his partner might have overlooked a vital clue that could have led them to Waits, and so spared the life of the people he killed after Marie: ridden by guilt and by the suspicion that there might be more to Waits than what’s on the surface, Bosch retraces his steps in a frantic search for answers, while the usual political maneuverings and a convoluted plot cross inexorably with the cold case investigation…
What comes immediately to the fore in Echo Park is the stark reality of the story itself: the theme of the serial killer might be an often-used one in crime/thriller novels, but here it’s combined with the political dealings inherent in law enforcement and the need to present public figures in the best light possible in view of an election, so that even the sordid leverage offered by a multiple offender can be exploited by an individual’s ambition. The story goes through a number of false leads and red herrings that in the hands of a less skilled writer might have looked implausible, but that here manage to keep the narrative flow at a sustained pace and the tension at the highest levels. Not to mention that in real life that’s what does indeed happen as an investigation goes through a number of false starts and dead ends before (if ever) reaching the desired conclusion.
As for Bosch, this novel sees him almost at his wits’ end when it seems that Marie’s killer was within reach and he missed him by a proverbial hairbreadth: nothing could be worse for a relentless investigator such as he than realizing he did not pursue every little detail to its very end. This situation is something of a setback as far as his personality is concerned, because where the previous two books had shown a more sedated Harry Bosch, a man finally capable of thinking things through before charging headfirst into situations, here he seems to somehow revert to his older self, the “Lone Ranger cop” afflicted with tunnel vision. This relapse ends up affecting his renewed working and sentimental relationship with FBI agent Rachel Walling and souring the partnership with colleague Kiz Rider, who had so far proved to be a stabilizing influence on Bosch. With the former, one can see how it would be difficult – if not impossible – for him to maintain a stable emotional tie with a woman, since the drive to solve cases always becomes the main focus for his energies, shunting everything and everyone else to the sidelines. With the latter, he ends up breaking what is the necessary bond of trust between working teammates, jeopardizing safety and careers for them both, as Kiz points out with no little bitterness:
Maybe at some point you will trust me enough to ask my opinion before you go off and make decisions that affect both of us.
What I found once again surprising is how much Michael Connelly can keep me invested in this character’s journey even when I see how much his tunnel vision and self-centeredness can estrange him from the people around him: I enjoy reading about Bosch even though I don’t always like him – for me this is the mark of very skilled writing, indeed.
Probably, one of the most intriguing sides of this story comes from the parallels between Bosch and the killer Waits: both of them orphaned at a young age, both of them taken in by disinterested foster families, both of them spending some time in the same institution for troubled youths – and yet taking two opposite paths in life. Where Waits, as Bosch muses at the end of the investigation, picked his victims with the unconscious objective of killing his own mother over and over again, Bosch on the other hand tries to solve his mother’s murder over and over again by relentlessly seeking justice for the victims, particularly those no one seems to care about. And here the author offers a striking image for the theme of “nature vs. nurture” relaying the theory of the two “dogs” we have inside us, one good and one bad: the person we turn out to be depends on which “dog” we choose to feed. Meaning, probably, that the border between good and evil is even thinner than we can imagine…
As usual, the resolution is a very unexpected one, even though part of this story was already familiar to me thanks to the TV series: there might be something of an… embarrassment of riches, so to speak, in the plots within plots revealed in the ending, but it’s only a small crease in an otherwise very enjoyable tapestry. So… onward to the next one!