While it’s been more than a decade wait for the third installment in Michael Connelly’s Jack McEvoy series — Bosch, Ballard and Haller have consumed the years between — “Fair Warning” (Little, Brown and Company) not only brings the veteran newspaperman out of retirement but again teams him with former FBI agent Rachel Walling in an intricately plotted thriller.
It’s been 11 years since “The Scarecrow,” when McEvoy was forced out of the Los Angeles Times due to budget cuts. Now as then, the journalist turned successful murder writer again finds himself tracking a killer working under the police’s radar.
As in that novel and its predecessor, “The Poet,” McEvoy uses his reporting and police procedural skills to make national connections that elude local forces. In “Fair Warning,” that means tackling a particularly vicious, albeit seemingly unconnected, string of murders across the United States. Once McEvoy suspects that the deaths might be tied by genetic data, he traverses the dark web and personal connections — enter his ex, Walling — to try and unearth a killer stalking the source who initially turned him onto the story.
Given the novelist’s own journalism experience, “Fair Warning” reads authentic on multiple levels. For one thing, “Fair Warning” is an actual news site (fairwarning.org) that, as in the book, publishes watchdog reporting on consumer issues. Connelly sits on the news site’s board, and incorporates some real-life journalists into the story. Podcasts also play prominently in the book — another authentic arrow in Connelly’s quiver — and effectively updates the storyline for a contemporary feel.
But what stays the same is the author’s puzzle-perfect plotting, revealing only in the end to all but the most astute readers the final pieces that make the whole picture.
That the author is a bit heavy handed in promoting the website on which he is personally involved is his right, and he’s certainly not the first popular writer to push a cause (we’re looking at you, John Grisham). But it can remove a brick from the fifth wall for readers purely invested in the story — even as life imitates art, as the dramatist said.
Still, Connelly ushers here a first-case read, a competent commentary on genetic privacy and good journalism, and the hope that McEvoy is not 10 years older before the next book arrives.