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Sunday 26 March 2023

THE BLACK ECHO - Book review

I’ve read a good number of debut novels in my time, and Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo is one of the best. Here can be found assured writing, believable characters, vivid description, good pacing, and a likeable and tough protagonist. Harry is short for Hieronymus; apparently his mother ‘had a thing about fourteenth century painters’ (p97). 

LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is called out to the body of a vagrant suspected of succumbing to a drug overdose; stuffed in a concrete pipe near Mullholland Dam. But he reckons it doesn’t look like a suicide. And he recognises the corpse – a fellow soldier from Vietnam twenty years ago, Billy Meadows. Bosch immediately thinks something is very wrong here: ‘There are no coincidences’ (p25).

On checking out the dead man’s apartment, Bosch discovers that the place had been searched already, though an attempt had been made to hide the fact. The search had not discovered a pawn ticket, which Bosch decides to check out at the named shop.

But the shop has been broken into, jewellery and other items stolen…

His leads takes him to the Westland Bank break-in of the previous year. The felons had tunnelled in and raided the safety deposit boxes, the haul estimated at $2m. This robbery was investigated by the FBI but no arrests were made.

Bosch is told to work with the FBI on his latest murder case, and his partner is FBI agent Eleanor Wish.

The tunnelling caper brings back Bosch’s memories of being one of the tunnel rats rooting out Vietcong insurgents. Meadows had been in his team. Some memories never go away. He pulls out a scrapbook: ‘The pages were yellowed and had gone brown at the edges. They were brittle, much like the memories the photos evoked’ (p71).

‘The photos were of the smiling faces of young men who had dropped down into hell and had come back to smile into the camera. Out of the blue and into the black is what they called going into a tunnel. Each one was a black echo. Nothing but death is there. But, still, they went’ (p72).

His flashbacks are powerfully done; Bosch was only twenty and witnessed the mutilation of a comrade. And he was afraid, very afraid. ‘It was like going to hell. You’re down there and you could smell your own fear. It was like you were dead when you were down there’ (p192).

After being demobbed, not surprisingly Bosch suffered from a sleep disorder. ‘There was no going back to repair what had happened. You can’t patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid’ (p77).

The relationship between Wish and Bosch becomes close and is handled well. Inevitably, Bosch is not a great lover of authority and has his issues with the police and FBI hierarchy, and even has blistering encounters with a couple of Internal Affairs goons.

There are plenty of tense moments, a second tunnel robbery seems probable, and it seems that not everyone is what they seem…

An excellent crime novel with a satisfying ending. The first of twenty-four Bosch books. I’d previously read the fifth Bosch book, Trunk Music in 1998, out of sequence but that was not a problem. I’ll be reading the next three in order: The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde, and The Last Coyote.

Bosch was also a TV series (2014-2021) on Amazon and was well received.

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