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October 5, 2011

The hardboiled detective story is as American as apple-pie. The main character is an average Joe (or Jane) tasked with upholding justice in a world that stomps all over him. He does this not because it’s his job, but because it’s his moral imperative. Despite the short-cuts others might take, this hero walks the walk.

One of my favorite complications in any story is the damnable inconvenience of a moral imperative. It’s where the character we’ve come to know and understand is faced with a choice: do it the hard way or take the easy route. Obviously the hardboiled detective chooses the hard way, but when it hurts you as much as it hurts him, then you know you’re reading a good book.

Michael Connelly’s THE BLACK ECHO is a perfect hardboiled detective story. Yeah, that’s right. Perfect. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but you’ll never find a cop on the force who’s more of an outsider than Harry Bosch. Poor bastard.

Who he is, what he’s been through, it’s there on every page of this novel, it’s there in the way the others treat him and the way he treats himself. Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus Bosch comes fully stocked with complications and references to his past that are neither backstory nor superfluous. This is not an origin story, it’s just another rough day in his life, the difference is that this day could be his last.

I sure don’t love Los Angeles–I did a little time in Lakewood back in the day and couldn’t get out fast enough–but I love reading about it, especially from someone who knows how to write it and Connelly knows how to write Los Angeles.

It’s hard not to give anything away here since one of my favorite things about this novel is how it ends. But where the novel really excels is in the writing. Every scene matters and the close 3rd person narrative gives us the right level of access. From the first sentence to the last, it’s a good read. It’s a crime book but it’s not gruesome or gross or gratuitous. As an example of the genre, it’s perfect, top shelf all the way.

Bosch has got to do the right thing. It’s who he is. He’s not a sucker or a sap, he’s the last lonely sentinel in the dark. He may not like everybody, but it’s clear that he believes in justice for all.

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