- - Thursday, July 16, 2020

“Death is my beat,” Michael Connelly’s crime reporter character Jack McEvoy tells us in “Fair Warning.”

Shifting from his longtime police detective character Harry Bosch, Mr. Connelly’s latest crime thriller offers Jack McEvoy, his character from his earlier novels “The Poet” and “The Scarecrow.” Like those earlier novels, McEvoy is pursuing a serial killer.

This killer uses DNA tests and the dark web to target his promiscuous and vulnerable female victims. The serial killer, known as “the Shrike,” murders his victims by Atlanto-occipital dislocation, which the medical examiner explains is internal decapitation. The Shrike snaps their necks.

Jack McEvoy becomes involved in the case when two Los Angeles detectives visit him and ask him about a murdered woman that he was briefly romantically involved with. The detectives asked him where he was the night the woman was murdered. He told them he was at a work meeting and there were people who could verify his being there.

One of the detectives then asked the reporter to tell them again about him and the murdered woman.

“I could tell what he was doing. Jumping around with his questions, trying to keep me off balance,” Mr. Connelly writes. “I covered cops for almost two decades for two different newspapers and the Velvet Coffin blog. I knew how it worked. Any slight discrepancy in retelling the story and they would have what they needed.”

The reporter volunteers for a DNA test knowing it will eliminate him as a suspect, and he then begins to investigate the murder.

Once a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Jack McEvoy is now writing for a website called “FairWarning.” His editor at FairWarning is cool to the story as the site covers consumer protection and not murder. Despite warnings from the police, Jack McEvoy looks into the murder and discovers there are other murders similar to the woman he knew. He learns that the killer hunts women using genetic data that the victims voluntarily give to a dating web site.

“Myron was the founder, editor, reporter, and chief fundraiser for FairWarning. It was an Internet news site with no paywall,” Mr. Connelly writes. “There was a donate button at the bottom page of every story and sometimes at the top, but Myron was always looking for the great white whale who would sponsor us and turn us from beggars into choosers — at least for a while.

“There is really no entity doing what we are doing – tough watchdog journalism for the consumer,” Myron told each prospective donor. “If you check out our site, you’ll see many stories in the archives that take on powerful kingpin industries including auto, pharmaceutical, wireless, and tobacco companies.”  

When the editor is convinced that the story has potential and involves scientific labs, he teams McEvoy with another FairWarning reporter. McEvoy also teams up with Rachel Walling, a former FBI agent and private investigator who performs Internet background searches for her clients.

Although “Fair Warning” is a novel, FairWarning is a real news site that offers watchdog reporting on consumer issues. The nonprofit site was founded and is edited by Myron Levin, whose character and name Michael Connelly uses freely in the novel. Mr. Connelly is a member of FairWarning’s board of directors.

Like Jack McEvoy, Michael Connelly is a former Los Angeles Times crime reporter. The Jack McEvoy novels are written in the first-person, and Michael Connelly told me a while back that McEvoy was his voice. I asked him if the character was autobiographical.

“Not the details of his life, growing up in Colorado and having a twin, but what is autobiographical is his view of the business,” Mr. Connelly said. “So, when I’m writing this story, I’m not pushing my chair back away from the computer and rubbing my chin, wondering what this character would do. I just wrote what I would do. He says what I would say and thinks what I would think. So, in that way we’re pretty close. I don’t know if that qualifies as autobiographical.”

He said that reading Raymond Chandler changed his world. He became a Los Angeles Times reporter to work in Raymond Chandler’s town. Being a reporter offered him knowledge of Los Angeles, the cops and crime and he published his first crime novel, “The Black Echo,” which featured Harry Bosch, in 1992.

“My job here is to write a thriller — to be entertaining and keep the pages turning,” Mr. Connelly told me. “But you always have an opportunity to say something or open up a window on something happening in the world,”

“Fair Warning” is a well-written, fast-paced crime thriller that his many fans, as well as newcomers to his novels, will enjoy.

• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers.

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