Danger propels Connelly’s ‘Nine Dragons’ at breakneck pace

August 22, 2012

I have not been a true mystery fan for quite a while, but I have read and enjoyed a number of Michael Connelly novels over the years. This American crime novelist is in peak form with his 2009 entry in the Detective Harry Bosch series, Nine Dragons.

The book opens near the end of a dull early September work day in the Los Angeles Police Department’s special homicide squad room. Bosch has been idle for a month and is itching for a case.

The call comes on the second page. Bosch and partner Ignacio Ferras are dispatched to Fortune Liquors in the city’s dodgy South Normandie neighborhood. Owner John Li has been shot to death behind his counter; footage from the store’s security camera has been stolen, but clues suggest gang involvement.

Unfortunately, the immigrant victim’s family — a Chinese-speaking mother and her daughter and son — do very little to point the police toward a specific suspect. Bosch, chafing at the lack of progress, takes his frustration out on his regular partner and on Detective David Chu, who is drawn into the case. It doesn’t help matters that the slow-moving investigation appears to have developed a serious leak.

But soon Bosch has got much bigger problems than his partners. A pair of threats prompt him to leave Los Angeles on a life-or-death mission. By the time things come to a conclusion, there are a trail of bodies in Harry’s wake — and not all of them belong to bad guys.

Connelly details the action precisely and clearly. Here’s a moment from early on in the murder investigation:

Ferras joined Bosch near the front door, where he was looking up at the camera mounted on the ceiling at the center of the store.

“Why don’t you check out the back?” Bosch said. “See if the guy really pulled the disc, and look in on our witness.”

“Got it.”

“Oh, and find the thermostat and cool it down in here. It’s too warm. I don’t want that body to turn.”

Ferras headed down the center aisle. Bosch looked back to take in the scene as a whole. The counter was about twelve feet long. The cash register was set up at center with an open space for customers to put down their purchases. On one side of this were racks of gum and candy. On the other side of the register were other point-of-purchase products like energy drinks, a plastic case containing cheap cigars and a lotto display case. Overhead was a wire-mesh storage box for cigarette cartons.

Behind the counter were shelves where high-end liquors were stored, and which had to be asked for by customers. Bosch saw six rows of Hennessy. He knew the expensive cognac was favored by high-rolling gang members. He was pretty sure the location of Fortune Liquors would put it in the territory of the Hoover Street Criminals, a street gang that once was a Crips set but then became so powerful its leaders chose to forge their own name and reputation.

I plowed through Nine Dragons in about a day, and I loved it, even though I guessed part of the solution to the murder pretty early on in the novel. Bosch isn’t afraid to take risks, and Connelly isn’t, either. While the detective’s mid-book mission very much conforms to expectations of the thriller genre, it gives the book some freshness by breaking Nine Dragons out of a pattern typical to many murder mysteries. The book also has offers some perceptive looks into Chinese culture.

I was not extremely fond of Last Light, the previous Connelly novel that I’d read. But Nine Dragons did more than enough to convince me that a Connelly novel can still amply reward its readers.

One Response to “Danger propels Connelly’s ‘Nine Dragons’ at breakneck pace”

  1. I want to to thank you for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have got you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff you post…

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