Book review: The Drop by Michael Connelly

The Drop
Michael Connelly
Orion, 2011

What a treat it is when a new Michael Connelly book is published. The Drop is one of the Harry Bosch series. Bosch is a veteran cop in the LAPD, currently working in the Open-Unsolved crime unit (often called the “cold case” unit). Together with his partner the much younger David Chu, he is given cases to investigate when DNA or other forensic testing on samples from an old crime match up with entries in modern databases. One such case is given to Bosch and Chu at the start of The Drop. It’s a puzzling case because the blood found on the neck of a young woman’s body found 20 years ago, matches that of a sex offender who was only 8 years old at the time. Bosch and Chu are given the job of finding out whether there has been contamination during sample collection, or if not, what is going on.

Before they can start their investigation, Bosch is pulled off the case and put onto another one by none other than the chief of police himself, via Bosch’s old partner Kiz Rider, who now works as the chief’s aide. A man’s body has been found on the pavement outside a famous LA hotel. The corpse is that of George Irving, son of Bosch’s old enemy and almost-nemesis, Irvin Irving, who had to retire from the police force but is now a powerful councilman who controls police budgets. To say there is no love lost between the two men is an understatement, but Rider has told Irving Snr that Bosch is the most principled detective she knows, because for Bosch “everyone counts or nobody counts”. Hence, Bosch will find out whether Irving Jr committed suicide, as the investigating cops believe, or if there is another explanation for his death – the options seeming to be either an accidental fall over the balcony or murder.

Bosch would rather carry on his cold-case investigation as he has little time for high politics, yet has to comply with the order of the chief. He tries to carry out both investigations in parallel; one of the themes of the novel is the excessive resource and pressure to solve the current case, and the total lack of interest by the police authorities in the older case, that of an “unimportant” person. This theme deepens and darkens as more pages are turned.

As well as the two investigations, Bosch is in conflict with his partner Chu, who is immature and nervy. The two men fall out quite badly, not least because Bosch always keeps things to himself and has an autocratic style. In his personal life, Bosch is well-established in his life with Maddie, his 15-year-old daughter; their relationship is superficially laconic but close, as Maddie continues to be determined to be a cop like her father after she graduates from school. However, Bosch has to decide on whether or not to take “the drop” he has been offered, which is three more years in the force, after he is past official retirement age.

There are other themes and subplots to this novel which I won’t go into here. If you’ve read Connelly before, I would not want to provide too much of an account of the events in the book, which would only be likely to spoil your enjoyment. If you haven’t, I would not recommend starting with this book as there is quite a bit of assumed knowledge about the characters and past events. (Start with the first novel in the series, The Black Echo, and see if you aren’t hooked!).

Connelly always delivers for his legions of readers, though he has gone through a couple of slight dips earlier in the Bosch series. The Drop (which could refer either to Bosch’s final retirement date or to the fate of George Irving) is a gripping book in which one simply has to follow along behind Bosch’s driven, focused actions in order to find out how both investigations turn out. It is replete with the tough poetic turns of phrase that characterise Bosch and his self-appointed mission, to stand up for those who no longer have anyone to stand up for them. The last part of the book is a significant shift in tone from the rest – where in the hands of another author the reader (this one, anyway!) might have found it hard to continue, Connelly is almost too reticent about what he’s describing. Although I was grateful for this, the denouement of the cold-case investigation was less dramatic and slightly more flat than it could have been. The Irving case is more sharply drawn, and one can sense the author’s enjoyment of his political twists and turns towards its culmination. What’s next for Bosch? I’ll be eagerly awaiting his next appearance, as usual.

I purchased my copy of this book.

Other reviews of The Drop: Crime Time, The Mystery Site, PW (brief), Promoting Crime Fiction and Mean Streets.

The Drop at the author’s (very good) website, with excerpt, video, reviews, etc.

The Drop at Wikipedia, an entry with links to the other Bosch novels, Michael Connelly and related topics. The entry includes a list of the Bosch novels in reading order, plus the other books by Connelly.

Book review: I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

I’ll Walk Alone
by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster, 2011.

I’ll Walk Alone repeats the successful formula of n other books by Mary Higgins Clark. The reader knows exactly what to expect – the protagonist is a decent young woman suffering some ordeal that is outside her control; various male characters are involved, one of whom will probably end up being the villain and another of whom will probably end up marrying her; and there’s a dash of suspense, but nothing too explicit, in resolving the mystery.

I’ll Walk Alone is about an interior designer, Zan (Alexandra) Moreland, whose young child disappeared from a New York park two years ago, never to be found. Zan has attempted to put her life back together, but although she makes ends meet she remains traumatised. The framework for the action here is two-fold: Zan is behaving strangely (for example, confessing to a priest that she is aware of a murder that is about to be committed); and some startling new evidence is revealed indicating she may have kidnapped her own child.

Events unfold from the perspective of several characters, two of whom are Alivirah and Willie Meehan, who will be familiar from previous novels as Alvirah, a cleaning lady, won millions of dollars in the state lottery and is now an amateur detective and columnist for a New York newspaper. It is in this latter guise that she has become friends with Zan, trying to support the fragile young woman as she tries to re-establish her career. However, even Alvirah begins to doubt Zan’s sanity as the evidence implicating her in her son’s disappearance seems overwhelming.

This is a book that one must simply take on its own terms. It carries the reader along in its engaging, confiding style. However, there are many coincidences and plot holes that really don’t bear any scrutiny. If one is going to enjoy the novel, one is going to have to leave one’s critical faculties at the door. There is also rather a lot left unexplained at the end about what’s been going on for the past two years and why, not least in the motivation of one person, who seems particularly dopey when it comes to being threatened and manipulated, and seems never to have heard of covering oneself by lodging an account of events with a lawyer or bank. Yet despite these flaws, reading this undemanding book passed the time pleasantly enough on a Saturday while suffering from a cold.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of this novel: SCC Library Reads, Fiction Addict and Just One More Thing.

About the book at the author’s website – there is more of a plot summary here than I’ve provided, which probably removes quite a bit of what suspense there is from the novel. (An author’s preface provides a similar function; it would have been better placed at the end of the book. And there’s also a spoiler on the front-cover blurb.)

Wikipedia on Mary Higgins Clark – her fascinating life and a bibliography.

Book review: Lethal Investments by K O Dahl

Lethal Investments
by K O Dahl
translated by Don Bartlett
Faber&Faber 2011 (first published in Norway 1993).

Finally, 18 years after initial publication, English-language customers are able to read the first of K O Dahl’s Oslo detective series. I have previously read the three other novels in this series (so far numbering eight) that have been translated, in reverse order to that in which they were written. (Dahl is not the only Nordic author to suffer this fate.) I highly recommend these books to those who like classic police procedurals, as it is now possible to read the first four books in the right order, which is preferable to the way I read them, given that one of the themes is the relationship between the older, balding, small Gunnarstranda and his junior, taller colleague Frank Frolich. In Lethal Investments, Frolich does not think much of Gunnarstranda at the start, but as this book, and future volumes, pan out, the relationship between the men changes. We also follow the tracks of their personal lives, as Gunnarstranda mourns the death of wife (which took place four years before Lethal Investments opens) and Frolich begins a relationship with commune-liver Eva-Britt – a relationship with plenty of ups and downs.

But the main plots of these novels concern in each case a crime, with all the details of Gunnarstranda’s and Frolich’s investigation, along the way providing nuggets of information about Norwegian lifestyles and attitudes. Lethal Investments begins with the death of a young woman, Reidun Rosendal, after she’s spent the night in her apartment with a young man. Did he murder her before he left in the morning, or did someone else commit the deed later? The detectives start by interviewing the neighbours, including a repellent old man who lives across the street who spied on the lovely Reidun, and continue by talking to Reidun’s colleagues where she worked at a company called Software Partners.

The first two-thirds of the book is quite slow, as Gunnarstranda and Frolich follow up different leads which we see filtered through each man’s prejudices and perceptions. I enjoyed encountering the different (mostly non-admirable) people whom the detectives interview, the gritty, honestly up-front social mosaic that is built up as the book progresses, as well as all the rude, cynical byplay between the two main characters – beautifully conveyed by Don Bartlett’s typically naturalistic and smooth translation. The latter part of the book moves the action on when two more murders occur – which, together with a coincidence or two and a dash of intuition in Gunnarstranda’s case, allow the cops to home in on the evidence they need to support their hypothesis about the crime. I found it quite easy to work out what was going on and who was behind the crimes, but this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this classic crime novel.

I purchased my copy of this book. I am pleased that finally the UK publisher has improved the cover design! (Not brilliant, but better than the design of the previous three books published in English.)

Read other reviews of this novel: the Guardian (Cathi Unsworth), Simon Clarke and Bookgeeks,

Reading order of the Oslo detectives series.

Don Bartlett’s website.

My reviews of The Last Fix and The Man in the Window, and the Euro Crime review of The Fourth Man (Karen Meek).

Wikipedia entry on K. O. Dahl and his books.

SinC25: Joanna Hines, #2 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Joanna Hines is known to me as the author of The Murder Bird, a book I reviewed for Euro Crime, having first heard of it via a review at It’s a Crime! blog. I summed up the book as “a compelling little psychological thriller of dark family secrets” – it’s a story of the apparent suicide of a poet, and the efforts of her daughter to find out how she really died. The post at It’s A Crime provides the opening paragraph of the book, which is extremely “must-read-on-ish”, as well as some background information about the author.

I am not sure why I haven’t read any more novels by Joanna Hines since I read The Murder Bird, but I have decided to rectify this omission as soon as I have reduced my stack of recently acquired books to manageable proportions. I enjoy reading suspenseful novels, and this author seems to specialise in the genre, with Improvising Carla, about a death on a Greek island; Surface Tension, another novel about family secrets concerning a 20-year-old murder; and Angels of the Flood, set in Florence and again about an old mystery. The author has also written historical novels set in Cornwall, in the south-west of England, and some earlier books “about secrets” which are categorised separately from the titles mentioned above. More about the books and the author can be found at Joanna Hines’s website.

Based on The Murder Bird, I’d recommend the following three authors who write in a similar vein:

Barbara Vine (a.k.a. Ruth Rendell), whose books are on “themes of human misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets and hidden crimes.” A listing of Barbara Vine’s books, with a synopsis of each, is available at Wikipedia. I’ve read seven of the thirteen listed.

Diane Janes has written two suspenseful novels of family secrets: The Pull of the Moon and the superior Why Don’t You Come For Me? Both these novels are in the same vein as Hines and Vine in tapping into the tensions bubbling below the surface of apparently normal domestic life.

Morag Joss has written a book called Half-Broken Things which is about an odd collection of people living in a country house – how they got there and the consequences of the secrets that they all keep. Joss has written several other standalone books and a series about a musician in Bath (England), none of which I’ve (yet?) read. But on the evidence of Half-Broken Things, Joss’s books can be said to fall into this suspenseful “domestic secrets” genre, where the tensions between a small cast of characters are the focus of the book as opposed to police-procedural investigations, private detectives, or “thrills and spills”.

I don’t think I am familiar with books from the USA in this subgenre, so any recommendations would be gratefully received.

My Euro Crime review of The Murder Bird.

Crime fiction reader’s review of The Murder Bird (at It’s a Crime!).

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

October reading and reviews

At Euro Crime during October, I reviewed four books:

The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugdall***. From my review: “There is a great deal to like about this book. It is a readable, very well-plotted tale, with believable and sympathetic characters. I particularly liked the understated jousting between Alice and Cate, as Alice homes in on Cate’s perceived weaknesses but fails for some time to truly recognise the position she herself is in. Cate is a less vivid character than Alice, but I like the resolute way she deals with her weak ex-husband and the various male authority figures she encounters in her work. Above all, this novel is a great tale of psychological suspense, and I recommend it very highly.”

The Retribution by Val McDermid**, seventh in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series and very much of a muchness with the previous novels. To my mind, the plot machinations are slightly too obvious, and I don’t like the device of trying to make the reader thirst for revenge by making the baddie appallingly awful. But, if you like the McDermid formula you won’t be disappointed in this example of it.

Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft***, translated by Neil Smith, is a book that seems better in retrospect than it did when I reviewed it just after reading it. It is a bit long and digressive, but it introduces an interesting detective to the Swedish crime fiction scene – quite a crowded stage but Malin Fors will hold her own on it, I’m sure. One nice aspect of this novel is the excellent translation by Neil Smith, who is doing such a great job on Liza Marklund’s books too.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson*****, translated by Laurie Thompson, is another Swedish crime novel (fourth in a series) set in the far north of the country, as is Midwinter Sacrifice (first in a series). Interestingly, both books use the narrative device of having a dead person “speak” to the reader – not something that I like as I am not keen on the supernatural, but it is subtly done by Larsson. Asa Larsson’s books are wonderful, contrasting urban and rural values as well as the perspectives of the old with those of the young, as Rebecka Martinsson seeks to find her niche in life. A highly recommended series which is among the very best that crime fiction can offer.

I’ve had quite a busy month at Petrona, too, reviewing novels from Italy, the USA (2), Norway, Argentina, England, Peru, Sweden and Scotland.

Temporary Perfections by Gianrico Carofiglio***
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin*****
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman***
Headhunters by Jo Nesbo****
All Yours by Claudia Pineiro****
The Vault by Ruth Rendell***
Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo**
Anger Mode by Stefan Tegenfalk***
The Darkness and the Deep by Aline Templeton***

I’ve given star ratings out of five, so it has been a pretty good month on the whole. I’ve awarded the full five stars to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – my book of the month for sure – and Until Thy Wrath Be Past. However, Headhunters and All Yours are both very funny (if black), breezy books that I highly recommend (4 stars each). Most of the rest earn a respectable 3 stars.

What’s next? Well, despite good intentions I have acquired far too many books recently, so I won’t list them all here. I’m currently reading Lethal Investments by K O Dahl, but after that I’ve about 10 print books, 3 print library books and 3 Kindle books to read – so I hope I can avoid falling into yet more temptation until I have made some serious inroads into them.