Mulholland Dam where the body of Billy Meadows is found immediately opens the memory bank where Mulholland Drive is deposited. A great movie even if it takes a second run at it to grasp the plot. So impactful is it that it almost seems like a great advertising ploy by Michael Connelly, the author of Black Echo. It isn’t. The book predates the film by almost ten years and breathes life into the character of Harry Bosch.
I am not sure it helps to have discovered another Harry. At my age confusion can set in. But maybe catching killers is a Harry gig. Dirty Harry Callahan, Harry Hole, Harry Bosch. A Harry phenomena, where the lead detective spends time harrying hoodlums who mean serious business.
I came to Michael Connelly and Detective Harry Bosch courtesy of a Belfast man, Gerry (not Harry) O’Halloran. The Michael Connelly novels were his crime fiction of choice. I had regularly seen them about the house as my wife was a great aficionado of the series, but they had never caught my fancy until Gerry made the recommendation. Having completed he first one while in Majorca, I am warmed by the knowledge that there is a ton of them in front of me. A bit like the glow that came my way when I first started reading Stephen King: the sure knowledge that throughout my jail time I would always have him as a companion, often on darkening October evenings once the Open University exams had finished. Now my daughter is reading him and was delighted when I arrived home in the past fortnight from the charity shops with an aggregated bundle of sixteen for her. Amongst their number, The Stand.
Harry Bosch is a former US soldier who served as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. The rats while not special forces nevertheless gained an elite status among their comrades due to the work they performed, burrowing into places where a quick death was probably one of the kinder outcomes. They went where few others would – deep into the network of tunnels the Vietnamese Liberation fighters had painstakingly constructed for carrying on their war against US invasion. The Vietnamese were not gentle with those who were intent on burning them alive. They had no reason to be.
When a body is discovered in the Mulholland Dam pipe detective Bosch Harry frowns on learning that it is the corpse of an old comrade from the tunnels. Who called it in and why? This is Bosch at his best. He thinks more clearly and cleverly than the rest. That might explain in part the animosity of police officialdom towards him. Bosch is not flavour of the month with the police hierarchy and he returns it in kind. He clashes with Internal Affairs for whom his contempt is as unbridled as it is unconcealed. He doesn’t care, not being a pack animal eager to defer to the leader. And the two goondas sent to harass him by IA elicit no sympathy from the reader.
Eleanor Wish is with the FBI. At first their exchanges are tetchy. Then Bosch undergoes a little wishful thinking followed by fulfilment as the two become lovers. It adds to the narrative without ever taking it over like creeping ivy, stifling the growth of a good tale.
Bosch likes a beer but in Black Echo he is not given to black outs like Harry Hole of Jo Nesbo fame. The booze seems to relax him and lubricates his thoughts while he sits in a chair in his hillside home mulling over the clues and leads. Why Vietnam vet Billy Meadows died and at the hands of who, Harry in his endeavour to find out, must once again go deep into the tunnels, only this time far away from Vietnam, but just as dangerous.
For a first novel it is quite an achievement. The complexity and layers of detail is what might be expected to come at the end of a successful literary career, the work of a writer who has been round the block more than once and knows where all the bodies are buried. Claiming a prestigious best first novel award was never going to lead to accusations of fraud.
The dominos set up by Connelly do not automatically fall once the first is clipped. The reader is made to work for their worthwhile reward. While the twists are brilliantly done and disappoint only in so far that some of the characters can let you down - human frailty with all the foibles - there is maybe too much meat packed into this single sandwich. The book is long and while it manages to avoid the sense of being needlessly stretched – it comes without tedium - there is a feel that the covers could have been pulled a little closer together without compromising the quality.
Black Echo is a work that will echo in the mind long after being returned to the bookshelf.
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