It’s about the procedure

Is the seasonal stress starting to get to you? Find a cozy warm spot and get caught up in a good novel about something entirely different. Bob Moyer has a suggestion for you.

 Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE NIGHT FIRE. By Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. 405 pages. $29.

 … down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything … He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him… The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.

 Raymond Chandler wrote that creed for the hard-boiled detective some years ago, and mystery writers have been trying to match that description ever since.  At the top of the list is Michael Connelly, who sent Harry Bosch down those streets 22 books ago.  True to the creed, he has been relentless in his search for truth, never tarnished, always lonely, always brave.

 Harry, however, is getting on.  After a bitter pension fight, he retired from the LAPD. He then got fired from a non-paying job with another department.  Now he’s got a bad knee, plus blood complications from a case long ago.

 Enter Renee Ballard, in her third book.  Cut from the same cloth as Harry, she’s singular in her pursuit of the truth, unorthodox in her methods, and as difficult to work with as Harry.  She meets Harry because she was marooned on the late shift at the Hollywood station where he once worked, and where he constantly sneaks back.  They have become partners in crime-solving. She alters the creed a bit — “down these mean URL’s a woman can go…”  She’s adept at the “new” policing.  Although she can hit the streets, Harry’s the best with boots on the ground; she’s good with fingers on the keys.  She’s also the “inside” person.

 The case this time starts with a murder book from years ago, found in the belongings of Harry’s former partner.  No note, no explanation, just a record of a murder in a bottom desk drawer.  In other words, two mysteries — the murder, and why his partner took an interest in it.

 The two partners continue to work on their own cases, to great reward for the reader.  Connelly breaks the book into alternating sections — Ballard works the death of an immolated homeless person, while Bosch proves one person not guilty for his brother Mickey Halley, then tries to find out who is guilty.  That’s five plots, plus one that pops up later.

 The joy of this series, however, is not the plotting, but the plodding.  No one does the procedure of a procedural like Connelly.  It’s no short of amazing that he keeps us on the edge, waiting for that one detail that another cop missed, something that catches Ballard’s eye, makes Harry stop and think.  Best of all, the author does it by setting up the system, then showing how the two B’s get around it.

 Between engaging plodding, and jam-packed plotting, Connelly has come up with another winner.

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