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Echoes of Character

  Echo Park
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2006
Rating: 4.0
 

Posted: October 13, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Michael Connelly knows how to put together an intriguing mystery, but he knows that what really keeps the pages turning isn't the whodunit but the personal arc of the protagonist. That's certainly been the best part of his last couple of novels featuring Homicide detective Harry Bosch, whose brief stint as a civilian in Lost Light and The Narrows showed that he's not fulfilled unless he's tracking down murderers; even after he'd left the force (earlier than planned), Bosch was poring over old unsolved cases from earlier in his career. So his return to duty in The Closers was satisfying on two levels: as a well-crafted mystery, yes, but also as a homecoming.

Echo Park, Connelly's latest Bosch novel, also has a couple of levels. And the central plot isn't a mystery -- at least, not at first. Connelly picks up with Bosch working another one of his old unsolved cases -- the murder of a young woman named Marie Gesto. But when he learns that another detective named Freddy Olivas is interested in the files related to that case, it seems the murder's already been solved. Olivas' boss, an ambitious prosecutor named Rick O'Shea, is working on a high-profile case involving an accused double-murderer named Raynard Waits, who is apparently willing to admit to a number of past murders -- including Gesto's -- in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Of course, things turn out not to be as cut and dried as they appear, and before long Bosch's attention is divided by a killer on the loose, a critically wounded partner and the discovery that a crucial misstep in his original handling of that long-ago case might have allowed Waits to remain active for a number of years. The path Connelly lays is enjoyably twisty without veering into the territory of hopelessly convoluted head-scratcher, as Connelly uncovers corruption that circles back to Gesto's murder and faces resistance from within the police department; it's the most satisfying plot of Connelly's last few Bosch novels dating back at least to City of Bones.

Less easily digested, although not disagreeable, is the glimpse Echo Park affords into Bosch's psyche. The plot plays on Bosch's passion for justice, allowing him to be manipulated like a rat in a maze. That zeal -- and perhaps also his inner humiliation at being so deftly maneuvered -- cause him to act with what FBI agent Rachel Walling (in a welcome comeback after The Narrows) refers to as extreme recklessness.

One wishes Connelly would let readers go a bit deeper. He often comes off as one step above a cipher -- he's a fairly humorless, one-dimensional guy, and the closest we get to emotion is a tightening of the gut. It's one thing to read a third-person documentation of Bosch's realization that his past as a tunnel rat during the Vietnam War still drives his actions; it's another to feel it. Connelly's procedural, reportorial style offers echoes of Bosch's inner world, but rarely anything more.

Still, Connelly does manage a surprise or two, ending Echo Park with a nicely ambiguous passage in which we're led to question how far Bosch will go in the pursuit of justice. It's that final question, rather than the expertly handled puzzle involving Waits and Gesto, that stays with the reader after the book is finished.

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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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