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Lost Opportunity

  Lost Light
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2003
Rating: 3.5

Posted: April 4, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, the star of Michael Connelly's series of gripping crime novels, has all the distinguishing features of a classic crime-story protagonist. First of all, there's that name, the all-important pop-cultural touchstone (think Robert B. Parker's Spenser, Robert Crais' Elvis Cole, John Connolly's Charlie "Bird" Parker). A longtime Los Angeles homicide detective, he operates on a combination of smarts, gruffness and dogged tenacity. A Vietnam veteran, he's seasoned and rough around the edges. And to prove he's got a hopeless romantic side, he still carries a torch for his ex-wife, a former FBI agent turned professional Las Vegas gambler.

So Bosch has all the ingredients of a quintessential hard-boiled character. But his standard-issue personality traits alone aren't enough to elevate Lost Light, the latest entry in Connelly's series, above the level of a moderately entertaining thriller. That's largely because Connelly never convincingly brings us fully inside the head of his protagonist, who relates the complex goings-on of his latest adventure in dry, show-don't-tell tones more suited to the Joe Friday-style voiceover of a prime time police drama.

Which is a shame, because Bosch is a likable character with a renewed sense of mission; recently retired from the LAPD, Bosch starts digging into an old unsolved murder case at the behest of a former colleague now confined to a wheelchair, the unfortunate victim of a holdup seemingly gone awry. And the case, involving a murdered Hollywood production assistant, the theft of two million dollars from a Hollywood movie set and a missing-and-presumed-dead FBI agent, is a competently constructed mystery packed with the requisite twists and turns, surprising character revelations, ominous warnings from stern federal agents pursuing a related post-9/11 terrorism angle and one compelling shootout sequence.

The thing is, Lost Light's workmanlike efficiency is part of its problem; like Bosch himself, it's a collection of tried-and-true, factory direct components that never transcend their formula foundations. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. But in its attempts at poignancy and emotional resonance, it's obvious that Connelly is shooting for more than just a by-the-numbers thriller, and the piling on of boilerplate elements proves frustrating -- particularly in the case of the painfully contrived revelation regarding Harry's ex-wife Eleanor Wish, a groaner of a plot twist that drags the book down to the level of a cliché-filled James Patterson novel.

Still, if Lost Light more often reads like a treatment for a big-budget film (like the Clint Eastwood-directed Blood Work, adapted from one of Connelly's non-Bosch novels), it does manage to satisfy on the level of a capable potboiler. But if Bosch weren't so intriguing and compelling a character, perhaps, that perfectly laudable achievement wouldn't be quite as disappointing.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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