Book Reviews

Book Review: The Black Echo by Michael Connelly – Gripping Police Drama

The Harry Bosch series has been quite lucrative for author Michael Connelly.  After writing for a few years on the crime beat in Los Angeles, he developed the character of Harry Bosch.  The Black Echo is the first novel in the series that introduces the reader to the character.  It does so quite well by bringing in Harry’s colorful past into the case he’s investigating.

Harry Bosch is a homicide detective in Hollywood.  He’s been demoted after an incident involving the shooting of a serial killer.  One night, this beat brings him in on the murder of someone who turns out to be someone he knew in Vietnam.  Both Harry and Billy Meadows used to be what was known as “tunnel rats” who would go into the tunnels that criss-crossed the underbelly of the country, trying to force out their North Vietnamese enemy.

It would seem the body found in a drainage tunnel is a cut-and-dried case of an overdose, but Harry senses something else. There are a couple of things that don’t ring true, and he begins to investigate it as a homicide.  A little digging tied Meadows into a bank robbery case the FBI is investigating.  There he partners with Eleanor Wish, to investigate the murder and the robbery, as well as on a personal level.

I had never read any of Connelly’s work before I picked up The Black Echo, and this definitely drew me in.  He has a talent for creating vivid multi-dimensional characters.  The bad guys aren’t one-dimensional cardboard-cutout bad, the good guys aren’t lily-white pure.  Harry Bosch himself is someone to root for, yet he has issues.  He has fought to get to where he is in life against what it threw at him, from his upbringing to his time in Viet Nam, to his life as a police officer.  I cringed when he made certain decisions, knowing no good could come of it and I could sense that same cringing inside Harry, even as he made the choice.

The Black Echo develops certain characteristics of Harry that will be a running theme throughout the series.  He works outside of the normal operating parameters of the Los Angeles Police Department.  This drives his superiors crazy, but because he is a popular public figure (his name is associated with a popular television show) there’s little they can do as long as he doesn’t cross the line.  Even when he does, it doesn’t take much for him to push his point across: he gets results, and he’s usually right.  That’s the case here, particularly near the end of the book when two Internal Affairs officers who have been following him in hopes of building a case make a huge blunder.

Connelly’s setting is equally as his characters.  Having lived near New York City and in suburbia, we don’t think much about the conduits and tunnels that run right underneath us.  Connelly does an excellent job taking the reader down into that world, as well as into the world of the streets that we pass by every day, trying hard to ignore what we don’t really want to see. We don’t want to see those who live in the fringes of life, but they are there, and Connelly makes the case in The Black Echo that they deserve as much justice as the rest of us.

I’ve never been a huge fan of police dramas, but I really liked The Black Echo and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.  I can’t imagine that the Los Angeles Police Department is too happy with some of the characterizations of their officers here.  Some are characterized as being on the job in name only, working lucrative side jobs until the day of their retirement when they can take their pensions and walk away.  Others are incompetent and politically driven.  Only Harry seems to be dedicated to what the job is really about: justice, and he is shown as bucking just about everyone in his department.  The only other drawback is that The Black Echo is a bit dated.  Having first been published in 1992, the officers aren’t using cell phones and rely on pay phones. Computer use is restricted to searching police databases on monochrome screens.  The DNA technology also isn’t what we’re used to in this day and age of CSI.  It’s a step back in time that anyone born after about 1985 will have trouble identifying with.

For the rest of us, though, The Black Echo is a good novel.  I really didn’t get the whole picture until the very end, which is surprising.  Usually, I manage to figure out what’s going on ahead of time but Connelly had me stumped.  If you’re like me and have never been heavily into police mysteries, I do recommend it as you might find yourself surprised.





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