Michael Connelly Unites his Heroes
Writing book series in fiction has always presented its own set of unique challenges, the most important being: how exactly do you keep things fresh and interesting? After all, no matter how much people might be in love with your work, they can only handle repetition for so long, even if it is packaged neatly in different wrappers. Michael Connelly is, in my opinion, a rather remarkable author for this specific reason: after over twenty books Harry Bosch novels, he still finds ways to write new stories remarkable in their own ways. Most recently, he threw a new twist into his works, uniting Renee Ballard (from The Late Show) and Harry Bosch to form a new series, the first book in it being Dark Sacred Night.
As the story in Dark Sacred Night opens we are introduced to detective Renee Ballard, working the night beat like she always has. When she returns to her station in the early morning, she sees an intruder searching through the file cabinets… an intruder who is none other than retired detective Harry Bosch. He’s looking for a cold case from his past, one which never left the back of his mind, burrowed deep under his skin. While Ballard can’t exactly allow him to rifle through the cabinets at Hollywood Station, she does take a look at the case herself, and it piques her interest to new heights.
The case in question is the murder of fifteen-year-old Daisy Clayton, a runaway found on the streets of Hollywood, her body brutalized and dumped in a trash container. The killer was never found, and with time everyone seems to have forgotten about it… everyone except Harry and Renee. The two detectives decide to join forces and try to finally put to rest the mystery of what really happened to poor Daisy. Along the way, a shaky alliance is being forged between the two agents of the law, and it certainly has a few dangerous tests in front of it before being cemented.
Work the Evidence
If there was one major flaw I would ascribe to a large number of murder mysteries and investigative thrillers, it’s how it often seems discoveries are made at random through sheer luck for the sake of advancing the story. I honestly don’t blame the authors as it is quite difficult to string together a perfectly logical mystery, but it is an element which holds many of them back from being great rather than good.
In addition to this, the pace is remarkably fast as is generally the case for Connelly novels. I use the word “remarkably” because despite it being a very detailed police procedural, it still retains the qualities of a page turner. Even if we are delving into technical aspects of a detective’s work, it’s always somehow related to advancing the plot and feeding us a bit more information about the case at hand. The events never have a chance to get old or stale, and at some point, for me at least, I realized I was reading more for the incredibly-intricate and well-written chase than the promised eventual catch.
Passing the Harry Bosch Torch
As I mentioned at the very start of this review, the problem with series is how stale they generally end up becoming the more books are published within them. No matter how good of a writer Connelly might be, he too came to realize even Bosch has his limits as an interesting character; with every novel he is getting older and accumulates baggage… he can’t carry the burden on his own anymore. For this reason, I was quite happy to see the author find a happy medium between forgetting him and overstaying his welcome: partner him up with a new, younger character. We’ve seen what Renee Ballard is capable of in The Late Show, and she definitely has the chops to be his equal.
For those who weren’t around to witness her exploits in her own solo novel, Ballard is actually tackling three additional side cases alongside Bosch’s main one: a murder, an art theft and a seemingly accidental death. While they weren’t as interesting as the main plot, they definitely had their charms and place in the story, serving to introduce new characters, demonstrate Ballard’s proficiency as a detective, and develop her frail partnership with Bosch.
Their relationship is developed in a rather realistic way, starting off as a union of professional interests more than anything else. Slowly but surely, they come to learn more about each other and as their cases progress they must both learn to overcome the hurdles brought upon by an unstable alliance. While at first I was reluctant to see it, I did come to enjoy seeing Ballard pushed forward into the hero role, while the old and worn-out Bosch takes on the lesser performance of the sidekick, so to speak. She is obviously a character with a lot of depth and potential for future development, and I am excited to see where this series might take us in the future.
The Final Verdict
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly is a welcome, smart and necessary move forward on the author’s part, setting up Renee Ballard to take over Bosch as his main character. The plot is as enthralling and fast-moving as we’ve come to expect from the author, and anyone who enjoys police procedures and murder mysteries will have a blast with this book.
Michael Connelly is perhaps one of the most popular modern writers, starting has career when he discovered Raymond Chandler’s writings at his university. To support himself, he worked at the local newspaper while specializing in crime, which shows in virtually all of his works touching on criminal subjects, such as The Black Box and The Lincoln Lawyer.