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Closing Time

  The Closers
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2005
Rating: 4.0

Posted: May 15, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

With The Closers, journeyman crime novelist Michael Connelly puts his longtime protagonist Harry Bosch back where he belongs -- solving murders for the Los Angeles Police Department. Reunited with his old partner Kizmin Rider on the new Open/Unsolved squad, Bosch is now a "closer," dedicated full-time to wrapping up what the media and a popular television show like to call "cold cases." While Bosch's last two post-retirement outings, Lost Light and The Narrows, were interesting diversions, it feels right to have the character refocused on his "mission" -- speaking for the wrongly dead -- with adequate resources and manpower behind him.

Even better, Bosch's return to his old job offers a sense of movement, of a character arc fulfilled. Of course, Bosch not being the most demonstrative of characters, he doesn't launch into a lot of impassioned speeches about how bringing murderers to justice is his life's calling. Instead, his renewed sense of purpose finds him a bit overly enthusiastic, even making a couple of rookie mistakes as he tries to sort out the years-old abduction and murder of a lovely young mixed-race girl named Rebecca Verloren.

That The Closers is as brisk and compelling a read as it is is a testament to Connelly's skills as a storyteller and mystery novelist, especially since the third-person narration and spare prose don't lend themselves to the kind of tightly wound tension found in other crime-thriller series (or even in some of Connelly's non-Bosch works, most notably The Poet). And the stoic Bosch, it must be said, while certainly relatable, isn't as effortlessly engaging as, say, Robert Crais' Elvis Cole. It's easy to sympathize with Bosch, of course -- especially when he's trading barbs with his antagonist, Deputy Chief Irvin Irving, who may be involved in a department cover-up related to Verloren's case, or when his investigation leads to a gruesome murder that could have disastrous consequences for the Open/Unsolved team.

But The Closers is at heart a police procedural, and so, as with Dragnet's Joe Friday or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's Elliot Stabler, Bosch himself often seems to come in second to the mystery du jour. But Connelly, as he so often does, manages to maintain a delicate balance between procedural and character-focused tale, juggling the former's close attention to the minutiae of police work with the latter's requirement that we care about the person trying to solve the crime. It's a hard line to walk, and if he occasionally teeters, Connelly should be commended for walking it as deftly as he does.

Certainly, he unfolds the book's central mystery with deceptive ease, and even sketches vivid portraits of the shattered parents of the long-dead victim -- especially Rebecca's father, a once-successful restaurateur whose grief and cowardice have driven him into a life of homelessness. There are no dead giveaways or Deus ex Machina revelations to mar the final outcome; one suspects that Bosch could have happened upon his critical case-breaking moment a little earlier, but that's a very minor quibble that doesn't critically detract from the flow of the story.

The Closers is a confident crime story in which none of its elements -- crooked cops, racism, conspiracy -- grow too large or threaten to swerve the book into cheap melodrama. Instead, those elements are woven into a tight, satisfying mystery with plenty of revelations and wrong turns. Better than that, it's the welcome return of a likable character to his life's work, and (one hopes) by extension, the beginning of a second and fruitful act for one of the best long-running crime series going.

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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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