As a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s work since his debut novel, The Black Echo, I’ve long been anxious about the end of Harry Bosch. Until recently we’d seen him working as a Robbery & Homicide detective with the LAPD, a short stint as a PI, a closer of cold cases for the LAPD, and a volunteer for the San Fernando police department. But Harry is not far off seventy now, and having him continue in the same fashion would have been unrealistic.
In many ways, the Bosch-Ballard books – with Renee Ballard having been introduced to us in her own full-length novel The Late Show – is a clever device. In this way, Connelly gets to continue with both current police work by way of Ballard, as well as cold cases worked by the pair of them, the younger Ballard doing much of the heavy lifting. The use of this device has allowed the author to give us more Bosch without him having to bear the burden of carrying an entire crime novel from outside law-enforcement.
So the question is, does it work? For me, the answer is a reluctant no. After reading The Late Show I described Ballard as a bit of a Bosch-Lite. She had the same surly nature, determination, and disinclination to play by the rules or adhere to the whims of her superiors. However, I didn’t take to Ballard in the way I originally did to Bosch. So, when Dark Sacred Night came along and both the old and new leads were pulled together, I hoped that would ease her in a bit and that I would have more time to get used to her. Two books in, the duo feel to me like two undercooked characters being forced to ride in the same vehicle.
Here in The Night Fire we have Bosch working one main open case after being left a murder book by his old mentor. Ballard not only helps him, but also spends time working a significant case of her own. I’m all for various strands, but what I did not take to this time around were the filler stories – the smaller, minor cases Ballard had to work while on the late shift duty. I’m sure they were not intended as filler, but that’s what they felt like to me. I understand the author’s dilemma. Having placed Ballard on the late shift, she clearly can’t spend all of her time working with Harry, nor even on a single case of her own, so for the sake of authenticity we spend some time with scenes featuring these other jobs she gets called out to. Personally, I found them to be a distraction and a side-show to the main event.
I don’t think any Michael Connelly book can be described as poor, nor even less than acceptable – such is his ability to plot and bring the language of the LA crime scene to us – but one of the things readers will know from his novels is that Harry does not work well with others. His personal relationships have mostly been disastrous, and his working partners have never really been embraced by Bosch at the time they were working together. So, banking on us readers to now relate to the chemistry of these two working in tandem, is a big ask. I completely respect the attempt to both keep Harry functional and at the same time introduce us to another major character, but in this fan’s opinion it doesn’t work. It’s been a disappointment to me, and it’s certainly not the way I want to see my favourite fictional sleuth go out. For me, I’d happily take one final Bosch novel over these shared stories.