THE DARK HOURS by Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin)
Michael Connelly, along with Ian Rankin, is arguably the world’s leading crime fiction writer, and has been for a long time now.
Not only are his books highly entertaining, they are also compelling portraits of modern society and the changes that it is going through. This particularly evident in his latest book, The Dark Hours (Allen & Unwin, 9 November 2021), which offers an exciting police investigation set against a searing picture of Los Angeles in 2021.
The book opens on New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles with LAPD Detective Renée Ballard and her reluctant partner Lisa Moore sheltering in a patrol car under an overpass while hundreds of revellers shoot their guns into the air to celebrate the New Year. A few minutes after midnight they receive a call to attend a crime scene where a shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the midst of a crowd of street partygoers. Ballard quickly realises that the death was not caused from a bullet that fell from the sky, but from a gunshot fired at close range. The death also seems to be linked to an old unsolved crime that was worked on by retired detective Harry Bosch. As Renée reunites with Harry on the investigation, she finds her time increasingly occupied by another case involving a fiendish pair of serial rapists, the Midnight Men, who have been terrorising women and leaving no trace.
As with all of Connelly’s books, The Dark Hours is a smoothly written and very engaging crime novel. Within a few, well written paragraphs Connelly has you caught up in Ballard’s world and before you know it you are totally engrossed in the story and the pages are flying by, even though there is not a lot of action in the opening section. Connelly’s adroit plotting and his ability to convey convincing police detail in a few swift sentences, quickly builds the structure of the story and he ably sets the various strands in place. As the book progresses, the suspense mounts and the plot smoothly moves to an exciting and tense climax.
Forming the backdrop to the story is Connelly’s sharp-eyed and convincing picture of Los Angeles in a year of immense upheaval. All the 2021 checkpoints are there, from facemasks to vaccine shortages to the Black Lives Matter Movement to the storming of the American Capitol, and all are smoothly and seamlessly interwoven into the story. Central to the book is Connelly’s portrayal of a Los Angeles Police Department hampered in its effectiveness by vilification, inertia, defunding and low morale:
“Moore was like many in the department since the protests, looking to do as little as possible between now and retirement, no matter how far away it was.”
“To Ballard, much of the department had fallen into the pose of a citizen caught in the middle of a bank robbery. Head down, eyes averted, adhering to the warning: nobody move, and nobody gets hurt.”
It is a troubling picture of policing in LA, but Connelly is even-handed in his commentary and also skewers many of the critics of the police, including in this encounter between Renée and a citizen after the storming of the Capitol:
“‘You’re a cop – shouldn’t you be…I don’t know…doing something?’
‘What the fuck are you doing, Nate? You people hate us. You hate the cops until the shit comes down and then you need us. Why don’t you go out there and do something?'”
An enjoyable aspect of The Dark Hours is the continued development of Ballard as a character. Although billed as a “Renée Ballard & Harry Bosch Thriller”, this is very much Renée’s book. Everything is seen from her viewpoint, no alternating perspectives with Bosch as in The Night Fire, and it is her views that flavour the book. Connelly continues to flesh her out in interesting ways and she is growing as a character. Less strident than she was in the earlier books, she is now more assured and her detective skills are more evident. She will be a great character to follow over the next few years, as Bosch assumedly fades into the background.
In all, The Dark Hours is a terrific novel. The story entertained and gripped me, but it is Connelly’s picture of Los Angeles in 2021 that sticks in my mind.
Four and a half stars of five! One of the year’s best books!
The Dark Hours is released in Australia on 9 November 2021 by Allen & Unwin and in the United Kingdom on the same day by Orion. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.