In 21 novels featuring Michael Connelly’s now-legendary detective Harry Bosch, the touchstone has never wavered: “Everybody counts or nobody counts.”
Heck, earlier this year, Connelly even had the mantra plastered on T-shirts, raising more than $75,000 in donations for My Friends’ Place — a Los Angeles initiative that inspires homeless youths to build self-sufficient lives.
So, to say the slogan is a bellwether of Bosch’s DNA is not saying too much. And saying that the detective’s barometer is battered by his faith in his now-deceased mentor, John Jack Thompson — the man who taught him that in any investigation, everybody matters — is saying that at its core, Connelly’s newest Bosch novel, “The Night Fire” (Little, Brown and Company), presents a moral dilemma.
But it’s not one that Bosch has to go alone. In again pairing with Los Angeles Police Department Detective Renee Ballard, the semi-retired Bosch forms an unofficial alliance with a partner who has never deigned to thrust both feet into a fire that the more-steadied, seasoned detective might have tread more cautiously.
Competently combining a cold case with an active investigation in “The Night Fire,” Connelly merges a decade’s-old secreted murder book given to Bosch by Thompson’s widow with the burning death of a homeless man that may or may not have been accidental.
And the story begins.
But on the way, there’s an unexpected development — unexpected in that Bosch has made more than 20 appearances in print, and readers surely by now have the measure of his mettle.
Yet, one of the strengths of “The Night Fire” is its depth of weakness. Bosch, tested by loyalty, is tempted in ways we haven’t seen him tried before. And Ballard, who might serve as compass, is distracted herself at times from True North, stemming from an unjust demotion and career-limiting incident of sexual harassment she was right to fight.
In “The Night Fire,” Connelly thrusts these two flawed champions into the fray and into a novel of alternating voices — a literary gambit that other authors could not navigate so successfully. Here, though, the voices combine to form a more perfect union and belay Bosch’s early answer to Ballard, “True heroes are hard to come by, I guess.”
Not so in “The Night Fire.” Here we find two.