It happens to me sometimes to catch a series of false starts with books: either these books are not my cup of tea or I’m in a picky mood and nothing seems to meet my tastes. When that happens I know the only way to get over such a gloomy outlook is to pick up a “palate cleanser” of sorts, and one of my tested and true comfort reads is a crime/thriller by Michael Connelly – I know his stories never disappoint me and they always manage to bring me back on track.
The Overlook is the shortest novel in the Harry Bosch series, only 164 pages on my e-reader, but still it managed to keep me intrigued from start to finish, also thanks to the relentless pace that helped me focus on the story despite it being one already visited in the TV series: it’s not the first time I’ve observed this phenomenon, and once again I must admire the author’s writing skills in this regard.
After a stint in the Open-Unsolved department Bosch is now working in the Homicide Special division and has been assigned a new partner, the young and upcoming Ignacio Ferras. The two come to work on the case of a man found murdered on an overlook on Mulholland Drive: the victim was shot in the back of the head, execution style, and is identified as a doctor working with radioactive materials. An inspection of the doctor’s house finds his wife bound and gagged and reveals that she was used to compel the husband to steal a considerable quantity of Cesium, probably with the goal of fabricating a dirty bomb.
The discovery brings the FBI in on the investigation, given the apparent terrorist nature of the crime, and Bosch’s old acquaintance Rachel Walling is part of the team charged with finding the dangerous material before it can be used in a devastating way. The FBI’s cavalier attitude toward the case, both in trying to take over every aspect of the operation and in shunting the actual murder on the sidelines, prioritizing the recovery of the Cesium, does not go well with Bosch, of course. Being who he is, the detective refuses to give in gracefully and fights what he sees as the Feds’ intrusion into his murder investigation, particularly when some details don’t seem to add up but are deemed irrelevant by the FBI.
The story itself is a compelling one – even though I was aware, thanks to the TV series, of the unexpected twist that comes at some point – but what is even more interesting is the deeper look into the siege mentality that took hold of the law enforcement agencies after the attacks on 9/11: the most evident consequence is the heightened state of reactivity of those agencies that brings them to sometimes react on insufficient or misleading information, falling prey to a sort of knee-jerk reaction that can prove more counterproductive than anything else. What comes out of this picture is a wounded, damaged society that still has to find its balance in the wake of of a terrible shock. There is a segment of the story where it’s possible to see clearly how someone invested with power, but not with enough discernment to exercise it properly, can be manipulated into actions that deepen the deterioration in the social framework – and that, in this specific case, lead the investigation on a totally false track, but since I’m now nearing spoiler territory I will say no more about it… 😉
As for Bosch himself, while I can understand his all-encompassing desire to bring justice to the victim, and his impatience with the high-handed methods of the FBI, his usual recklessness here felt more in service to his own ego than to the investigation: it’s something I remarked in my review of the previous book, and here its presence makes itself felt more heavily. Even though in the end he’s proven to have been right, his reverting to the tactics of his younger self seems to point to an involution in Bosch’s character, and this is particularly evident in the relationship with his new partner: some of Harry’s actions are not only ill-advised, they could prove dangerous, career-wise, and his off-hand dismissal of those dangers, in the face of his partner’s objections, stresses once more how he is ultimately a lone wolf – and not necessarily one worthy of unconditional admiration. While this character development was somewhat troubling, I have to admit that the author was right in showing his creature’s “dark side” more often because it makes him more real than any shiny-armor-clad “hero”.
The story itself is fast-paced (the sensation is that everything happens in a very short time frame) and engaging despite the already quoted familiarity: this time the main event in the book mirrors exactly what I saw on TV, but Michael Connelly’s writing is such that my immersion in the story never wavered for a moment. While there was no surprise in the plot, the depiction of the investigation itself, with its twists and turns, and of the pall of fear imposed by a terrorist threat, was more than enough to offer a compelling and satisfactory read.
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