The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

July 18, 2008

RE-REVIEW: THE BLACK ECHO by Michael Connelly

In the quest to resolve my riddle of whether Michael Connelly's latter books are not as good as the early ones, or whether my expectations for Connelly's work are set too high, I have now finished re-reading The Black Echo, the first in the Harry Bosch series. I half-expected to no longer enjoy this first book just because my opinion of Connelly's work is now so tainted by how I feel about books such as The Lincoln Lawyer and The Narrows. That was not the case. I enjoyed re-reading Black Echo, naturally not as much as upon first reading if only because I know the ending, but even reading more analytically than before, I still find this book to be not only an outstanding work of crime fiction in and of itself, but when one considers that this is the first of Connelly's books, the quality seems even more remarkable. Small wonder that the great James Lee Burke used this title in a small piece of action in one of his own Robicheaux books.

Characterization: A+ Getting to know Harry Bosch, his good and his, um, lesser qualities, is a great part of what is so fascinating about this book. This is one of the strongest initial entries for any series I've read. Not the strongest, but one of them.

Pacing: A Excellent. The reader is pulled along on a string, slowly at first, then more rapidly, and then yanked into the ending. The ending was a trifle jerky, but remember that this is a 'first' book.

Setting / Ambiance: A LA becomes a character all its own.

Prose: A- Occasionally wordy, but not overpoweringly so. Occasionnally workman-like. But the flow is good, and sometimes Connelly is downright poetic.

Plot: A- Not all that original, but not a mass of cliches either. Some cliches, yes, but Connelly's prose and characterization often mask them or even refresh them. Wonderfully intricate plotting, and this for me is a hallmark of Connelly's best work. I enjoy the way he can scatter worms of details hither and yon, then later get them all back into the proverbial can. Of course, there have been books where I think the worms got away, but that's something to discover as I continue re-reading this series.

Overall satisfaction and how well the book has held up over the years: A-
The book has really not suffered much for the years since its publication (1992). If some things seem more cliched than they did upon first reading, remember that some points were original to Connelly at the time but have since been swiped by dozens of imitators. The ending seemed more contrived than I recall, but if this was my first reading I doubt it would seem so. I can clearly see from this book why I and so many others became instant fans.

Next up: Black Ice

July 8, 2008

The Rise and Fall of Harry Bosch


I probably should have titled this post with Michael Connelly's name rather than Harry Bosch. I appear to be one of the few people who've become thoroughly disenchanted with Connelly's work. From THE BLACK ECHO right on up through ANGELS FLIGHT I was one of the worshippers at the shrine. Connelly's plots were intricate and tightly woven; his characterization outstanding; his portrayal of LA was equaled only by that of Robert Crais and surpassed only by Chandler. After ANGELS FLIGHT -- IMHO Connelly's finest puzzle -- the books seemed to me to taper off, in all ways. The plots developed tiny holes, then bigger ones. Purple prose crept into his writing. The experiment in delivering the mystery through the first-person POV of Bosch in LOST LIGHT seemed to me to be disastrous, and I wonder if Connelly felt that way also, because he did not do it again. The puzzles themselves became more banal so that I was amazed at how high critical praise was for THE LINCOLN LAWYER, a mystery that was no mystery because the solution was so transparently obvious; a book that was for me, barely average. Had that been the first book by Connelly I read, I would be taking my sweet time about getting to the others. I am, in fact, almost ready to scratch the name of Michael Connelly off my reading list, so unhappy have I become with his work of late. His next book, THE BRASS VERDICT, will have Bosch meeting his half-brother, Mickey Halloran. It's kind of sad that it takes a soap opera gimmick like that to make me even consider reading the next Connelly.

And yet...

I could be wrong.

It happens.

My expectations for Connelly may be too high, maybe I've just lost interest and there has been no truly noticeable drop-off in the quality of Connelly's work.

So.

To be fair, I intend to drag out all my old Connelly titles and start over from the beginning. I'm going to rate each book on:
Characterization
Pacing
Setting / Ambiance
Prose
Plot
Overall satisfaction and also how well each book has held up over the years.

This is going to take a while. I'd like to have finished this by the time THE BRASS VERDICT is published this fall, but other books are bound to get in the way. For example, SWAN PEAK, the new title from James Lee Burke is out today. And nothing, not even fair play, gets between me and a new Dave Robicheaux story.

July 4, 2008

REVIEW: CHASING DARKNESS by Robert Crais


If you've never read any of Crais's Elvis Cole books, I sincerely pity you. If you are already a fan, go get this book right now. Put simply, Crais is writing at the top of his game: Evocative prose, 3D characters, tight plot.

I dislike writing synopses; there's a fine line between a simple description of the plot and just giving away the story. To put it in a nutshell, Elvis must retrace a murder investigation he handled three years earlier. Elvis's work resulted in freeing a man who apparently went on to commit two more brutal murders. His confidence rattled, choking on guilt, Elvis does what he does better than anyone: Detect. And therein lies the story. Collecting pieces of the puzzle is almost more fun than solving the puzzle, and in CHASING DARKNESS Elvis Cole gives a master class in the fine art, as well as the science, of being a private detective.

Cole's friend and partner, Joe Pike, lends a hand as needed. Pike is one of those unusual characters where less is more, and Crais is well aware of that. If Pike even speaks a single line of dialogue it is to say more than any other character at hand. Just his physical presence carries an impact and alters the dynamics of any scene.

If you've not read Crais before, I don't recommend beginning with this book. Yes, the story does stand entirely on its own, but the fact is that as good as the characterization is here it will be all the richer if you go back and begin with earlier books in the series. And a book this good should certainly be given all the advantages.

July 3, 2008

June Busted Out All Over

I went over the list of books I read in June and found that taken as a whole, June was a mediocre reading month. I read 11 books and would recommend only two of them without hesitation.

June started off with a lesson in GOOD BEHAVIOR by Donald E. Westlake. This is one of Westlake's Dortmunder books. They are always good for several grins, a lot of chuckles, and usually a few belly laughs. This title is no exception. Dortmunder working with nuns? Westlake must do some great drugs, how else to explain his unflagging originality? Oh, yeah, talent. Bags of talent.

Debut book from Aussie Adrian Hyland, MOONLIGHT DOWNS. This is a really intriguing story, particularly for those like myself who've had no exposure to modern Aboriginal culture. I generally won't write synopses (see amazon or B&N for those), so will only say that this is a book well worth the read, whether you like crime fiction or not.

Okay, those were the two best books I read in June. Best as in books I enjoyed without reservation. The middle-of-the-road books -- books not horrible but either not original or not engrossing yet I might read another book by the author someday -- were as follows:

Robert J. Randisi's LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE. I'll say this for Randisi, though his prose may not sparkle, he does capture the voices of the Rat Pack very nicely in his dialogue.

NOTHING TO LOSE by Lee Child. A disappointment, something I rarely say about a Jack Reacher novel. The story was more plod than plot, and never developed that 'edge of your seat' tension Child achieved in ONE SHOT and BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE.

TAMING A SEA-HORSE. I was glad that Robert B. Parker recovered from the gaffe that was A CATSKILL EAGLE, but this book felt like Parker was starting to re-tread some of Spenser's tires. This feeling was born out when later in the month I read FAMILY HONOR, the first in his Sunny Randall series. FAMILY HONOR was a reworking to lesser effect of the wonderful Spenser tale, EARLY AUTUMN.

I hate to say I felt let down by Duane Swierczynski's SEVERANCE PACKAGE. I so enjoyed his previous two books, THE WHEELMAN and THE BLONDE, that my expectations may have been a trifle high. SEVERANCE PACKAGE read like a comic book rather than a thriller or mystery. Swierczynski was suddenly channeling Stan Lee instead of Ken Bruen. I know the author is also experienced in writing comics but I wish he would not try to overlap the genres. No amount of originally scripted violence makes up for a lack of characterization.

The last two mediocre tales are older titles from bestselling authors, but my To Be Read stacks are so many and so high that a number of the books are beginning to yellow. David Baldacci's THE CAMEL CLUB and Nelson Demille's THE GOLD COAST -- not bad, but not riveting. Both authors have produced far superior work, and I've no doubt both will do so again.

And I read two books that I did not appreciate at all: Lyn Hamilton's THE XIBALBA MURDERS and Mary Kay Andrews' DEEP DISH. Re Hamilton, I just did not like her writing style, it felt stiff and she left characters and setting undeveloped. The Andrews book was bad enough that I went through the last liquor in the house. Not even Glenfiddich could improve my opinion of it. For some reason, when I picked the book up I thought I was getting lighthearted crime fiction. In fact, it was a romance of sorts. Or out of sorts. About two people who are competing to get to host a cooking show. Even now I feel a yawn creeping up all over me.

So much for June.

Ah, me, I do have hope that July will be provide better entertainment. What with Robert Crais and James Lee Burke producing new works, Megan Abbott's QUEENPIN next up in the nearest To Be Read stack, and a promise to myself to track down Louise Penny's last title, things are indeed looking up.