FAIR WARNING by Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin, 26 May 2020)
Michael Connelly has drawn on his real life experience as a member of the board of directors for the consumer watchdog news site, Fair Warning, to provide the basis for his latest novel, also called Fair Warning.
Fair Warning features Jack McEvoy, the hero of two of Connelly’s best novels, The Poet and The Scarecrow. The once famous reporter and true crime author has fallen on hard times. The royalties from the books detailing his involvement in the capture of two serial killers are dwindling and he has little chance, or desire, to return to the declining opportunities at the major newspapers. Instead he is working for the small, Los Angeles based, online news site Fair Warning, which relies on sponsors and donors and specialises in watchdog reporting on consumer issues. The money is not great, but McEvoy is getting by.
McEvoy is happy to be away from the crime beat, but when the police question him over the brutal murder of a woman he once had a one-night stand with, Tina Portrero, he finds himself being drawn back into the creepy world of serial killers. Despite the wishes of his editor and the police, McEvoy starts to investigate the murder and finds connections between Tina’s death and other killings across America. It seems that the killer is using supposedly secure personal data shared by the victims online to target and kill them. Suddenly, McEvoy finds his own personal data is comprised and that the police view him as their number one suspect.
Fair Warning starts a little slowly, but once underway it is a terrific thriller that once more shows why Connelly is in the elite top tier of crime writers. The plotting is assured and the portrayal of the flawed and ageing McEvoy is masterful. As usual, Connelly smoothly weaves in a wealth of interesting background material, this time about the collection and storage of DNA and how it is dubiously purchased and used by businesses.
As with The Poet and Scarecrow, the depiction of the changing nature of news reporting is fascinating and convincing, and ultimately concerning. Without preaching or slowing the pace, Connelly also raises some good points about the authenticity of current news reporting, the decline in standards and accuracy, and the manipulation of ‘fake news’.
The main pleasure of Fair Warning, however, lies in the consummate elegance of the plotting. The various elements of the story are added with skill and ease and the book moves through some subtle twists and turns to the exciting and bloody climax. The conclusion is credible and there is even a suggestion of further McEvoy books.
In all, Fair Warning is another well written, top notch novel by one of the world’s leading crime writers. Four and a half stars out of five!
Fair Warning is released in Australia by Allen & Unwin on 26 May 2020 and by Orion in the United Kingdom on the same day.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin and the Canberra Weekly for the advanced copy of Fair Warning for review.