Let Me Take a Ride

Echo Park
Michael Connelly

Here’s a puzzle I have no intention of solving: the dust jacket of my copy of this book bears a discounted price label from Barnes & Noble. No surprise, I regularly prowl the remainder bins and Sales Annex looking for bargains.

What’s surprising is that the book itself has all the markings of a library volume–acquisition date stamp, ‘property of’ stamp, even an indication it has been deaccessioned–everything, it seems, except those industrial-grade plastic covers. Perhaps most curious:  the library it belonged to is that of my own small town.

Were I truly a questioning type I might try to unravel this mystery.  Did the library sell it for 25 cents only to have the buyer sell it to B&N at a profit? Why, then, is the discount sticker the one used for remainders and not the label used in the Sales Annex? And just who bothered to remove the plastic wrap, which is a bear to remove?

Instead of sleuthing, I spent my limited free time with Michael Connelly and his greatest character, detective Harry Bosch. You’ll have to forgive my I-watch-minimal-TV ignorance and allow me to acknowledge that  Bosch is now big time, there being an Amazon Prime Video show based around his exploits.  Don’t ask me if it’s any good, I haven’t a clue, which is at least consistent with how this post started out.

There’s even a board game built around unsolved cases.

So just what has Harry been up to? Here we find Bosch where we last met him–on the Open Unsolved desk with his former/current partner Kiz Rider. It’s a rewarding gig in large part because it provides Bosch with a reason to scratch the itches he has for cases he never solved in the real-time of daily police work.

As if to set off a psychogenic scratching session, Bosch takes a call from an investigator assigned to one of the LAPD‘s farther-flung outposts. He’s asking uncomfortable questions about a case that still haunts Harry–Marie Gesto, a young woman who disappeared without a trace, leaving behind just her clothing,  neatly folded, in a car found in a garage near her apartment.

Territoriality, it seems, is not limited to certain orders of mammals and Major League pitchers.  If there’s new info, Bosch wants in and one of those so-moronic-it-must-be-true power struggles takes place over who should work the file. The ADA on the case, Richard O’Shea, allows Bosch and Rider to join in,  pursuant to a series of stipulations all built around a plea deal for Raynard Waits.

Plea deals, as anyone who has ever taken a 100-level political science course knows, enable the criminal justice system to function. At the Federal level, trials  are a rarity with 90%+ cases settled in a plea arrangements. It’s probably lower in the states, where most of the policing power lies, but it is still the norm. It is, also, a practice that irks law enforcement professionals and citizens alike. Bosch is both.

A crime is more likely to end with a suspect signing a plea agreement than a jury trial.

And he doesn’t like this deal at all. The defendant is not just a random criminal. He’s a full-blown serial killer who’s been smart enough to target a population so transient that disappearances aren’t noticed.

In fact, Waits’ arrest is a fluke. Not suspected of murder most foul, he’s pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The bag of body parts on the floor of the passenger side turns out to be problematic. Now he’s ready to avoid the needle and will talk about all his murders, including Gesto’s. He will even lead investigators to her body, his first-ever victim.

But Bosch isn’t buying it. His detective ‘Spidey-sense’ tells him something isn’t right and he’s pretty sure whatever is irking him starts with the career ambitions of the prosecutor. An election is approaching and both O’Shea and his opponent are looking for any angle they can leverage against the other.  In many ways, or at least in the one way Bosch sees it, the victim and the crime are secondary. That sets the stage for the recurring conflict with authority.

This is, after all, crime fiction, and the proprieties must be observed. Our hero must be, somehow, purer than anyone else in the system. He has to answer to a higher authority and he has to let those who aren’t following the same spirit guide know that they are morally compromised human beings.

Echo Park with Downtown in the distance. By LA standards, they’re right next door to each other.

For Bosch, the conflict is rooted in what he calls the code of the true detective. He must solve the crime because he’s the only one who cares about the victim. He doesn’t care about stats or the political careers of prosecutors or the effects obsession and getting-the-bad-guy-at-any-cost have on his personal life.

Those effects, by the way, are pretty profound. Harry manages to cram more positive and negative personal developments into short periods of time than any human being I’ve ever met. I mean, it’s a crime story, the reader should be focused on  the bad guys and the hero, not dwelling on whether events could actually happen as described.

More than once I found myself wondering about the passage of time. At one point Harry is alone, working in a squad room that, at a bit past 4 PM, is empty because his fellow tecs are done for the day. Maybe not caring about the clock is part of the code, too. For whatever reason,  Harry manages to solve complicated puzzles pretty quickly.

Bosch’s back story has dribbled out over the years and this time some of that matters more than it has before.  In many ways, the tale feels claustrophobic. That’s heightened by the geography. Most of the action occurs between Echo Park and Downtown,  nearly adjacent neighborhoods and an area that seems compact compared to the San Fernando Valley and South Central–two areas of the city other  Bosch stories have been set in.

I am not going to divulge plot details. All the things I expect from Connelly are here. It’s a taut, fast-paced read. And, as always, with Connelly, as with Hiaasen in Florida, it works because he’s writing about home–a place he truly loves.






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