St. Martin's Press, 1992, 418 pages
For LAPD homicide cop Harry Bosch - hero, maverick, nighthawk - the body in the drainpipe at Mulholland Dam is more than another anonymous statistic. This one is personal.
The dead man, Billy Meadows, was a fellow Vietnam "tunnel rat" who fought side by side with him in a nightmare underground war that brought them to the depths of hell. Now, Bosch is about to relive the horror of Nam. From a dangerous maze of blind alleys to a daring criminal heist beneath the city to the torturous link that must be uncovered, his survival instincts will once again be tested to their limit.
Joining with an enigmatic and seductive female FBI agent, pitted against enemies inside his own department, Bosch must make the agonizing choice between justice and vengeance, as he tracks down a killer whose true face will shock him.
The Black Echo, published in 1992, is the first book in the Harry Bosch series. It's one of those immensely popular commercial fiction series that the author keeps churning out - the most recent one is #19, published in 2014.
I tried it because while my primary love, as those of you who follow my reviews know, is science fiction and fantasy, I also occasionally am in the mood for crime thrillers and detective mysteries. And Tony Hillerman's Navajo series were one of my favorites.
Connelly, like Hillerman, knows his genre and his setting, and The Black Echo is pretty good at conveying the feel of an LA noir. But even in this first book, everything was pretty cliched, and the characters and dialog are written as if the author was working from 3x5 index cards and needed no more to flesh them out.
LAPD Detective Harry Bosch (real name "Hieronymus" - an allusion which will be repeated multiple times throughout the book for the slow reader) is a Viet Nam vet who joined the LAPD when he got back home. This isn't the only thing that makes this novel of the early 90s a bit dated now. (There are entire pages dedicated to describing searches through computer databases that nowadays would be summarized as "He Googled it.") Bosch follows pretty much every cop trope of the 80s — he has a reputation for being a "one-man army," he "follows his own rules," he gets in trouble with his glad-handing, brown-nosing, carefully coiffed superiors for being a "loose cannon," etcfuckingcetera. He's not quite Dirty Harry, but he's currently been "demoted" from the homicide department for a "questionable shoot" in which he shot a suspected serial killer (who in fact turned out to be a serial killer) who Bosch supposedly thought was reaching for a gun, but was actually reaching for his toupee. The question of whether Bosch really believed the man was reaching for a gun is brought up several times, and never really answered.
So, Bosch is basically a Clint Eastwood character with PTSD. When a body found in a drainpipe turns out to be one of Bosch's fellow "tunnel rats" from Viet Nam, Bosch gets involved. Naturally the case goes way deeper than it's supposed to. Naturally Bosch's superiors get pissed off at him and tell him he's off the case. Naturally Bosch stays on the case anyway.
The secondary characters are mostly even flatter than Bosch. There is Assistant Chief Irving, head of Internal Affairs, who has all kinds of pretentious mannerisms in place of a personality, and an irrational grudge against Bosch just so he can be a plot hindrance. Irving's minions, IA detectives Lewis and Clark (Connelly clearly likes word play with names, a quirk I can't really throw stones at) are one-note thugs with badges. The only secondary character who gets much development is the femme fatale, Eleanor Wish, a pretty blonde FBI agent with whom Bosch gets involved. Naturally this ends up leading to the final twist, but from reviews of later books, apparently Wish is a recurring character.
The plot was competently constructed, and the writing is also competent (if repetitive). That's pretty much all I can say about this book: it's competent. Nothing to grab me or make it my next crime series to follow.
Verdict: The Black Echo is neither exceptional nor memorable. It's an LA noir rife with cliches, not bad, but basically an airplane read. 6/10.
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