Review: THE BLACK ECHO by Michael Connelly

A recent post at the excellent crime fiction blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist made me realise I have read a paltry amount of crime fiction set in Los Angeles, despite it being the place outside my home country I have visited most often due to having family who live there. Another blogging friend whose tastes are eerily similar to mine raves about Michael Connelly so when I spied a sale at my favourite audio book source I figured it was time to start at the beginning of Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.

Although the first book to feature Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch Harry is no spring chicken when we first meet him. He’s 40 and has had a long, often difficult career in the LAPD after a stint as a soldier in Vietnam. As this book opens a body, presumably that of a junkie, is found inside a drainage pipe just off the city’s infamous Mullholland Drive and Bosch, recently demoted from a more prestigious Unit, gets the weekend callout. Somewhat incredibly he recognises the dead man as Billy Meadows, a fellow ‘tunnel rat’ from his time in Vietnam. Although no one else is terribly interested in what (or who) killed Meadows Bosch fights to have the case taken seriously. The death is proven to have been murder and Bosch links it to an open FBI investigation which is when the case really heats up with Bosch teaming up with an FBI Agent and linking the case to Meadows’ time in Vietnam.

The exceptional aspect of this book for me was its setting. The Los Angeles of the early 90’s is depicted as vast in size and a place where you need serious money to acquire life’s comforts. The police force that Harry Bosch works within is reeling from recent corruption and racial violence scandals and most of his fellow cops have multiple jobs just to stay afloat financially. Connelly has done an equally good job of setting the scene that Meadows and Bosch himself experienced during their time in Vietnam…this is done in an understated way that is the more powerful for not going over the top.

The other elements of THE BLACK ECHO were, for me at least, average. Not great, not bad but not remarkable. The story is a good one that did keep my attention, especially as it started looking into the crime of bank robbery which is not something you see a lot of in crime fiction and the way the investigation unfolded was compelling. However it is full of coincidences and contrivances and they don’t all work.

The characterisation is really limited to Harry and I’m afraid he did feel a bit like a collection of clichés rather than a fully rounded individual. Orphaned as a boy due to the murder of his mother, traumatized by war time experiences, has trouble with authority figures (and for the most part these run-ins appear to be for no reason at all that I could discern), is a loner whose only interests outside work are drinking beer, smoking and listening to jazz music (though at least he has been given a reason for the jazz obsession). I didn’t like or dislike him as nothing really stood out about him for me.

Narrated to me nicely by Dick Hill the book engaged me enough to read (or listen to) the second in the series but I’m not sure I can understand what all the fuss is about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch just yet. However as the sale that scored me this book was a 3 for 2 deal on series there are two more books from the series waiting on my iPod in which Connelly, or Bosch, can earn a more permanent spot on my reading calendar.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Narrator Dick Hill
Publisher Brilliance Audio [this edition 2006, original edition 1992]
ASIN B002VACGL8
Length 13 hours 17 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in Harry Bosch series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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8 Responses to Review: THE BLACK ECHO by Michael Connelly

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for the very kind mention 🙂 and for such a thorough and thoughtful review. I agree 100% that The Black Echo (and it’s not the only Connelly book that does this) is an excellent portrayal of Los Angeles and life there at that time. And yes, Connelly does an excellent job of discussing the many challenges that the city faces. I thought the crime investigation in this one to be just as absorbing as you did too. As far as Bosch’s character goes, I’ll admit that I am biased. I really like that guy. You may find that you like him better as the series goes on. His character has grown and evolved I think over the series. But even if you don’t I’m really glad there were things you really liked about this novel.

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  2. Keishon says:

    Harry Bosch fails to win you over in the first book huh? He is a character drenched in cliches but I like him anyway. Connelly is a solid writer with 16 books in this series thus far. Like Margot mentioned above the character evolves and the writing just gets better and better.

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  3. harvee says:

    I’d read this book for the info on LA in the 1990s. Seems like the story is entertaining too though not a perfect plot, as you point out.

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  4. Maxine says:

    Oh dear! Well at least you didn’t hate it! He wasn’t that successful with his first four books (all about Bosch),then he made his big breakthrough into bestsellerdom with The Poet which is about a journalist (also in LA, & the same universe that all Connelly’s books inhabit)….maybe skip to that, if you aren’t going to give up on him?

    However, I slightly disagree with commenters above in that if you didn’t love this then I suspect you aren’t going to be the most avid fan of these books….They don’t get all that much different, though somewhat leaner & a small group of recurring characters occasionally collide in different books in the series & add variation. I guess we just have to agree to differ on a few things now and again 😉

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  5. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: I read Black Echo after having read almost all of his later books. I believe the series does get better as mysteries. I think Bosch’s character can be challenging for readers. He does not have a very likeable personality and obsesses about his work.

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  6. Sarah says:

    I read one Michael Connelly (Echo Park) again because he had been recommended by Margot and Maxine. I did enjoy it and can see how easy it would be to get into the series. I suppose because I’m so far behind I’m not rushing to read any more but I have picked up another one second hand and it is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.

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  7. Pingback: Books of the Month – July 2012 | Reactions to Reading

  8. sue says:

    Bernadette, I agree with you. Bosch doesn’t convince me. I am not a big fan – I can understand why he is popular, but for mine he is a bit tedious and cliched. Easy to criticise I know, but he is not for me.

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