THE NIGHT FIRE
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, $18.99, 400 pages
In Michael Connelly’s latest crime novel, he brings together his character Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and his other character Renee Ballard together. His defense attorney character Mickey Haller from “The Lincoln Lawyer” also appears in a minor role in the novel.
For those unfamiliar with the popular series, Harry Bosch, now pushing 70 in real-time, was raised in an orphanage after his prostitute mother was murdered and he went on to serve in the Vietnam War as a “tunnel rat,” one of the soldiers who crawled through narrow Viet Cong-built tunnels in pursuit of the wily and deadly Communist guerrillas. He later joined the LAPD and for more than 30 years he was a stubbornly independent and dedicated detective whose personal credo was “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”
In Mr. Connelly’s novel “The Late Show,” the author introduced Renee Ballard, an attractive, 30ish, smart and tough detective who was banished from Robbery-Homicide, the elite division that investigated the most complex, serious and media-covered cases, such as the Manson murders, to the night shift after she accused her lieutenant of making a physical pass at her. The daughter of a Hawaiian surfer, she is part Polynesian and sleeps mostly in a tent on Venice Beach with her dog after her night shift. (the character is based on LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts, a consultant on the “Bosch” TV series).
With Harry Bosch retired from the LAPD, he and Ballard team up — him on the outside and her on the inside — and they agree to take on cases that interest them and do not appear to interest any one else.
“The Night Fire” begins with Harry Bosch attending the funeral of his old mentor, John Jack Thompson.
“John Jack — he was always called that — was a good man who gave forty years of service to the Los Angeles Police Department in uniform and as a detective. He put many bad people away and taught generations of detectives how to do the same,” Mr. Connelly writes in the opening of the novel.
“One of them was Bosch — paired with the legend as a newly minted homicide detective in Hollywood Division more than three decades earlier. Among other things, John Jack had taught Bosch how to read the tells of a liar in an interrogation room. He once told Bosch it took a liar to know a liar but never explained how he had come by that piece of wisdom.”
John Jack’s widow gives Harry Bosch a 20-year-old “murder book” that her husband stole from the LAPD when he retired. She asked her husband’s old partner to return the murder book — a thick three-ring binder used by homicide detectives as a formal case file that includes an investigative chronology, crime scene and victim photos, medical reports and other evidence — to the LAPD.
But something about the unsolved murder interests Harry Bosch and he passes the murder book on to Detective Renee Ballard. He tells her that John Jack taught him “the rule.” The rule was to take every case personally and get angry, which builds a fire and gives a detective the edge to go the distance every time out. He told Renee Ballard that she had the fire that made her a good detective.
The victim covered in the murder book was a 24-year-old drug addict, gay man and ex-con named John Hilton who was shot to death while sitting in his parked car in an alley controlled by an LA drug-trafficking gang. But why John Jack Thompson stole the murder book and why he appeared to have done nothing with the murder book was a mystery to Harry Bosch.
Earlier, Renee Ballard had been called to the scene of an arson-murder case in which a homeless man who lived in a tent with a kerosene heater was found burned to death. And Harry Bosch aids his half-brother, Mickey Haller, get a mentally-ill man cleared of a charge of stabbing a judge to death, despite his DNA on the judge’s finger and a signed confession.
When the LAPD detective sees Harry Bosch in the courtroom, he blames him for letting the man he believed killed the judge off. He told Harry Bosch that the case was “CBA,” meaning the case was closed, so Harry Bosch figured it was up to him to discover the true murderer of the judge.
Both Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard are juggling several cases throughout the novel, just as real detectives do, but in the novel the cases converge.
“The Night Fire” is a well-written mystery, crime thriller and police procedural. Michael Connelly’s many fans of the book series, as well as new readers who love crime fiction, will enjoy this novel.
• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.