(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

Michael Connelly mystery novels featuring Harry Bosch, the ninth of which is Lost Light, are in a continuum of American crime fiction that began with the works of Raymond Chandler in the late 1930’s, was advanced by Ross Macdonald a quarter century later, and has come to include a plethora of writers, including many regionalists. Central to these hard-boiled mysteries are complex plots, realistic settings, and the exposure of corruption beneath a veneer of respectability, as well as a detective who often is both a wise-cracking tough guy and a romantic moralist with a mission. Notably, Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Macdonald’s Lew Archer, and Connelly’s Bosch usually solve their cases by delving into the past to right the often-forgotten wrongs inflicted upon the dead.

Harry (formally Hieronymous, after the Dutch painter) Bosch debuted in The Black Echo (1992), which won a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for best first novel. In seven subsequent novels he is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), an iconoclastic maverick who flaunts his independence and is unfazed by disciplinary actions against him. Frustrated by intradepartmental rivalries as well as turf battles between city and federal authorities which inhibit the progress of investigations, he is most troubled by wayward cops and agents, rogue law enforcers among those supposedly devoted to rooting out corruption. His disdain for the chain of command and standard operating procedures notwithstanding, Bosch remains focused upon his cases, the successful resolution of which he pursues despite roadblocks.

In Connelly’s police procedurals, the standard narrative pattern is that an apparently simple case unfolds into complexity as Bosch pursues emerging leads. A recent crime has its origin in an earlier one, past events provide clues to present motives and events, exposure and unraveling threaten reputations and positions, Bosch’s life is threatened, and high-stakes chases and fights ensue.

Connelly has said he aims to develop incrementally Harry Bosch’s character in the course of the series. The fourth Bosch novel, The Last Coyote (1995), for example, is about his determination to reclaim his lost past by solving the mystery of his mother’s murder. In Trunk Music (1997), he marries Eleanor Wish, an FBI agent. At the end of City of Bones (2002), when he retires from the LAPD after twenty-eight years, he removes from his office file cabinet books of open cases “that still kept him awake some nights.”

When Lost Light begins, he is fifty-two years old, divorced, and a newly licensed private detective. Living alone in a canyon house high above Santa Monica, he listens to jazz and takes saxophone lessons. One of the unsolved cases in the box he filled eight months earlier becomes the focus of this novel, in which for the first time Bosch tells his own story.

Only in The Poet (1996), a non-Bosch book, has Connelly previously used the first-person narrative. This change with Lost Light may reflect the fact that Bosch no longer is a policeman but rather a private eye (though with no clients). Chandler, as well as Macdonald, almost always used the first-person style. Though Bosch is a private eye, the novel nevertheless is a police procedural, like its eight Bosch predecessors and in the tradition of J. J. Marric’s Gideon of Scotland Yard, Georges Simenon’s Maigret of the Paris Surete, and Ed McBain’s Precinct 87 detectives, though Connelly’s LAPD family is a more dysfunctional group than the norm in this mystery subgenre. Focusing upon the details of the criminal investigatory process, relationships among department members, and interaction with the larger urban community, police procedurals develop an illusion of reality.

Connelly also aims to craft a story filled with “intrigue and escalating danger for [his] investigator” and “a heart and human emotion at its center,” goals that ally him with the American hard-boiled mystery tradition. Lost Light meets these criteria, and though it is shorter than any of its eight Bosch predecessors, it is no less complex in plot, character development, and milieu. What begins with Bosch’s narrow focus upon the unsolved death of a young woman four years earlier unleashes threats and cover-ups that disrupt not only the LAPD but also the local FBI and new federal Department of Homeland Security offices.

Angella Benton, a twenty-four-year-old film production assistant, is murdered one night in the lobby of her apartment house, apparently the victim of a sex crime. Several days later, while he is on a film set investigating her death, Bosch finds himself in the midst of a shoot-out. Striving for verisimilitude,...

(The entire section is 1952 words.)