Detective in the Dark – Review of Michael Connelly’s “The Black Echo”

Cover Art for “The Black Echo”. Available on Amazon.

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Right off the bat, I want to say that I’m a huge fan of the Amazon Prime show Bosch. I had only vaguely heard of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch book series before the first season of Bosch premiered in 2014. From what I had heard, Connelly wrote hard-boiled detective fiction better than most on the market, with an emphasis placed on the slow, methodical pace that would be as close to verisimilitude as possible of what a real homicide investigation would look like. Given how much I enjoyed the television show, I decided to sit down and begin reading the Harry Bosch books, starting with the first in the series, The Black Echo.

Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t read the book.

First thing I want to cover are the differences if the only exposure you’ve had to the character of Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch is from the TV show. Harry Bosch in the novel isn’t all that different from the outstanding character created by Titus Welliver for the show, with a few exceptions. The first novel came out in 1992, with Bosch nearly forty years old. The age is roughly the same for the TV show but the time period is updated. Bosch is a Vietnam veteran in the book, having served as a “tunnel rat” during the war. The TV show had Bosch serving in the more recent Gulf War.

Michael Connelly, the author of the Harry Bosch novels. Source

Bosch fits the archetype of male murder/mystery protagonists: taciturn, laconic, and possessed with a righteous drive to catch whatever criminal he’s chasing. Much of Bosch’s character is revealed through internal dialogue and description of his mannerisms and expressions, which Connelly takes great pains to show in brief but memorable flashes. Harry’s the type of character that would say four words instead of seven or growl when disapproving of a situation.

The Black Echo takes place in Los Angeles, where Bosch works in the LAPD Hollywood Division on the Homicide desk (having been demoted from the premiere Robbery/Homicide Division over a suspect shooting involving a serial killer). Harry is called out to a dead body found inside a drainage ditch, which appears at first glance to be a standard heroin overdose until he realizes he knows the deceased, an old war buddy from Vietnam named Billy Meadows. As he investigates further into the death of Meadows, Harry discovers a connection to a high-profile bank robbery that occurred months before. Since bank robberies are normally handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this brings him into the orbit of Special Agent Eleanor Wish (who was also on the show as Harry’s ex-wife, portrayed by Sarah Clarke).

The slow pacing of the novel may not suit some readers who enjoy a more fast-paced, dynamic style of storytelling. Connelly worked as a report for the Los Angeles Times, usually covering the crime beat. The sense of scale and the minutiae of working a murder case isn’t lost on Connelly, who layers The Black Echo with bits and pieces of clues to the full story throughout the novel. There are four main point of view characters in the first novel: Bosch, Sharkey (a witness to the crime being investigated), Lewis and Clarke (two Internal Affairs cops investigating Bosch), and Deputy Chief Irvin Irving (the current head of Internal Affairs in this novel). Later novels in the series apparently only use two point of view characters, so this could be just a case of Connelly still feeling out his technique as a writer.

Once the novel gets going, there are only a few moments where things slow down, such as the budding relationship that develops between Eleanor and Harry. It’s an awkward romance, for both characters, although we only really see things from Harry’s perspective. The character work done by Connelly for Harry is subtle at times and up-front at others. Harry’s clearly someone who has a ton of trauma due to his upbringing and his experiences during Vietnam but he’s not the type of person to outwardly show that trauma (not the healthiest trait in the world). But in the tender moments with Eleanor, we get to see the human side of Harry that he keeps locked away.

The main antagonists of the novel are not as well-developed, with the exception of Irvin Irving. Lewis and Clarke are portrayed as largely bumbling idiots that wouldn’t know how to be proper cops if the knowledge was downloaded directly into their brains. They are fairly one-dimensional characters that only really serve to provide additional outside perspectives on Bosch, as well as throwing a spanner in the works to complicate the plot. I credit this again to this being Connelly’s first published work and the development of his style still being under construction.

Having enjoyed the TV show, I walked in expecting to enjoy The Black Echo and found it to be an excellent, if slower-paced reading experience. If you enjoy grittier detective fiction, you can’t go wrong with The Black Echo.

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