The Night Fire (Renée Ballard #3, Harry Bosch #22), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly returns to continue the torch passing between two of his key police detectives, doing so in brilliant ways that will keep the reader talking for the foreseeable future. Harry Bosch is privy to an unexpected gift when attending the post-funeral party of his first partner at the LAPD. A murder book from a case back in 1990 holds much, though it would appear nothing has been done in almost three decades. He brings this nugget to Renée Ballard, his quasi-partner, who continues to light it up within the LAPD on her night shift. Working off the books together, they pry into the past and seek to determine who might have shot John Hilton, a homeless drug addict. While not an heir to the hotel fortune, Bosch and Ballard work the case as they would any other, looking into gang ties and other clues that drop at their feet. In a case from so long ago, it is hard to find those who might remember, or choose to share. While juggling the case, both find themselves caught up in some other work. Bosch is brought in by flashy defence attorney—and his half-brother—Mickey Haller, to find the killer of a judge. Haller is sure his client is being used as a scapegoat, though the evidence is strong. Ballard finds herself looking into many cases on the ‘late show’, including a fire that killed a homeless man in his make-shift tent home. While the Hilton case gains a little steam, Bosch and Ballard will have to do whatever they can, as gangs are lifelong and bringing up old skirmishes have a way of angering people anew. A wonderful addition to the series that sees Ballard stealing more of the limelight in what could be a significant change for series fans. Recommended to those who love a gritty police procedural, as well as the reader who has long enjoyed Bosch in all his permutations.

I can usually count on Michael Connelly to come up with a strong story when Harry Bosch is involved. I can now say that Renée Ballard fits that statement as well, as she seems to be a ‘Bosch-lite’, but still just as determined. This new partnership is working well and keeps the story moving at a fast pace. Ballard continues to be a star on the night shift, pushing through cases and working as hard as can be, but also finding time to dig through old cases with her quasi-partner/mentor Bosch. Her backstory remains unchanged, but she seems to be creating more of a name for herself, which is helpful as the series looks to be moving towards her as the sole protagonist. Connelly lobs a bomb of sorts for the attentive reader, as they learn more about Bosch and what awaits him. Could this be a way of moving away from the star detective and making room for Ballard to have a solo career? Only time will tell. With a brief appearance by Mickey Haller, some readers—myself included—may pine for more Haller-centred novels, which could surely keep Bosch working. That being said, I love these crime thrillers, no matter which angle—police or lawyer—takes centre stage. The story was strong and kept me curious throughout. The banter between the two protagonists is further enshrined as Connelly uses first-person narratives for each of them, providing insight and first-hand knowledge as the plot thickens. A mix of chapter lengths keeps the reader guessing which twist awaits, though there is surely no limit to the action and intensity. I have come to enjoy Ballard as she seems to take over the storyline, though have come to see that Bosch’s 22nd novel sees him as gritty as ever, which I hopes does not end too soon.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for another wonderful piece. You bring your stories and characters to life in these novels and I hope you have many more ideas in the near future.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Dark Sacred Night (Bosch # 21, Renée Ballard #2), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Always finding ways to be unique with his writing, Michael Connelly offers up something different for his fans in this latest novel, which mixes two of his most talked-about protagonists. Two detectives from two jurisdictions, sharing their life stories and bound together by a single cold case that has them fully committed. While working the ‘late show’, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard comes across former LAPD legend Harry Bosch flipping through old files. Ballard soon learns that Bosch is working a cold case while things are slow down at San Fernando PD. After some digging of her own, Ballard approaches Bosch to see if he needs any help, particularly obtaining information within the LAPD. Thus begins a loose partnership between the two as they look into the murder of a teenage prostitute from almost a decade before. Bosch is doing this as a favour to someone he knows, but remains somewhat circumspect on why he’s being so nice. While Bosch and Ballard work their respective cases on different shifts, the Daisy Clayton investigation continues to heat up. With information tying her abduction and eventual murder to a non-descript van, Bosch and Ballard try to narrow down the list of suspects, while staying on top of the drama that shapes their own lives. The more they work together, the better they get to know one another, so different and yet so in sync. Could this be the ultimate pairing that no one saw coming? And does the murderer, hiding in the shadows, stand a chance with these two detectives on their heels? Connelly mixes some strong Bosch work with the still evolving Detective Ballard to create a great story that allows fans to get their fill of both characters. Recommended to fans of both series who always wondered, ‘what if…?’

I quite enjoy Michael Connelly’s work, spanning an interesting career. I am also a fan of authors who blend their series protagonists together, just to see how the chemistry will play out. Connelly has done it before, but this new connection could be an even more interesting fit, given the newness of Renée Ballard on the scene. Those who enjoyed Ballard’s introduction as a protagonist are able to extract a little more about the woman and her policing style, as well as the grit that emerges when she works alongside LAPD legend, Harry Bosch. As with his involvement in the series that bears his name, Bosch has grown and changed, but always seems to have new and exciting angles yet to be revealed. His backstory and development seem set in neutral, but there are always crumbs on which the series fan can feast, even as Bosch teeters on the brink of giving it all up. However, many would ask what happens to Bosch when he can no longer shape policing and help those in need. Connelly pokes at this bear in this piece, leaving the reader to wonder if Bosch’s days are finally numbered. The story was a brilliant mix of a handful of cases, seen through the eyes of both protagonists. Mixing the narrative angles, the reader is able to see both Bosch and Ballard working through things from their perspectives, as well as a joint effort to find this killer who has slipped through the cracks for nine years. The story moves along at a wonderful pace, offering struggles for both detectives while also seeing them grow closer together. This connection is one that cannot be ignored and should not be shunned, as there is much to be seen when it comes to it. A mentor-mentee situation could be budding and who better than Harry Bosch to have as a guide?

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for a wonderful series that seems only to get better. Bring on more, when time permits. Your fan base grows with each new publication!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Late Show (Renée Ballard #1), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

As if he did not have enough on his plate, Michael Connelly has decided to launch a new series (or at least a standalone) that takes a new approach to policing, still in the busy city of Los Angeles. Renée Ballard is a well-established detective with the LAPD, working the ‘late show’, police talk for the 11pm-7am shift. It’s mostly picking up the scraps of the nightlife and directing cases to daytime divisions, but police work all the same. Called out whenever the need arises, Ballard is left without closure or any sense of propriety on the cases she catches. Working alongside a jaded partner, Ballard is forced to contain her excitement for the cases that come her way. During a single shift, two monumental cases land in her lap: the assault of a transgender prostitute, left for dead in a parking lot, and a shooting at a nightclub with three victims left to die in their own blood. Ballard chases up leads as best she can, in hopes of being able to see something through and bring some closure for herself. While chasing down some evidence on the assault, Ballard learns that the victim has odd marking on his body, as if there might be words embedded in the flesh. Could this be the work of someone using a less than typical weapon? Meanwhile, at the club, the shooting appears to be a form of ‘house cleaning’ with the suspected shooter likely known to the three victims. Just as Ballard is trying to liaise with the day shift and move on from the shooting, some evidence pointing to a fellow cop emerges. Worse, it could be her former partner, who hung her out to dry. While trying to confront him, Ballard discovers that he has been shot. Could this be yet another act of senseless violence in a city where gunfire competes with cricket chirps? While wrestling with her own personal demons, Ballard is taken captive for poking her nose around on these cases, but no one knows she’s gone missing. Will the lights go out for Ballard on the late show once and for all? Perfect for those who have come to love the Bosch series, Connelly flavours this book with just as much energy, though differentiates it in numerous regards.

When I heard that Connelly intended on beginning a new series, I was not sure how well it would go, as he was so very busy. My worry intensified (I know, I worry about things I cannot control) when I discovered it would be another cop series, thinking that it might be a female Bosch or, worse yet, one in which the main character stayed on the narrow path. However, Connelly has been able to craft the Renée Ballard character to reflect the same grit of the LAPD, but with strong differentiations from the(in)famous detective. Ballard offers readers an interesting perspective, not only as a woman, but one who is single and not tied down to anyone else, save her dog. Having met her fair share of issues on the job, Ballard has had to make a name for herself and, at times, reinvent the person she wants to be on a force that still seeks to shuffle her to the side. Working that night shift makes her seem like a paper pusher and set-up for the glorious day shifts, who are able to score all the points and win glory at every turn. However, Connelly offers enough in this character that the reader can, at times, forget that and focus on wonderful police work. The story is strong and keeps the reader hooked, juggling a few cases simultaneously. While it is impossible to dream up new and exciting new angles to the crimes of the L.A. streets, Connelly chooses cases that can expand as the narrative explores the darker sides to the underworld. Keeping things realistic and succinct, Connelly is able to tell his story and utilize his characters effectively, while not getting too far-fetched. With almost two dozen Bosch novels to his name and a genre that is saturated with crimes in the big city, Connelly has been forced to show how Renée Ballard is not only unique, but also deserves a spot on the scene. I am eager to see when and where she will make her next appearance, as Connelly has a sure winner here.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly for a wonderful teaser novel to get the reader curious. Admittedly, I cannot remember reading about Ballard before in your writing, but I wonder if you have any hopes of bringing Haller or Bosch in to liaise at some point, should this book take off and lead to a larger series.