Current reviews
  Reviews by title
  Reviews by author

  Contact Onyx

  Discussion forum


Onyx reviews: 9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

One way to jump-start a long running series is to send the main character to an exotic locale. That's what Michael Connelly has chosen to do with homicide detective Harry Bosch, who travels to Hong Kong on a whirlwind trip to rescue a loved one. The book's title is the translation of the word Kowloon, the name of an urban section of the country near its famous fragrant harbor.

His new case starts in South Los Angeles. A family-owned liquor store is the site of a homicide when the patriarch, John Li, is shot to death. The killing looks professional, and Harry learns that Li has been paying protection money to the Chinese triad gangs. With the downturn in the economy, the extortion was stretching Li's finances to the limits. Harry and his partner suspect that Li's failure to make payments led to his murder. 

Harry has a special connection to this crime—the victim was kind to him during a violent incident years earlier. In his dying moments, Li had the presence of mind to do something that provides a vital clue to his killer's identity—and allows Connelly to introduce a new element of contemporary forensics into the story.

Harry's also trying to figure out what to do about his partner, Ignacio Ferras, who has been spending most of his time behind the desk since he was shot on the job. It's not a work-related mandate. Ferras is simply shirking his duty, using his family as an excuse to keep him out of potentially dangerous situations. While Harry sympathizes, his frustration level is increasing rapidly.

Harry receives a threatening phone call, warning him to back off. Then he receives a video telling him that his teenage daughter has been kidnapped in Hong Kong. It's only been a few years since Harry learned he was a father. He's been doing his best to be a part-time father, flying over to Hong Kong to spend time with Maddie, or bringing her back to Los Angeles when she's out of school.

With a suspect in the murder in custody, but lacking evidence to hold him beyond the weekend, Harry realizes that any negotiating power he has with his daughter's kidnappers will vanish when the suspect is released and flees back to China. Suspecting that someone inside the department, perhaps in the Asian Gang Unit, is leaking information to the triads, and unwilling to trust the Hong Kong police to find his daughter, Harry boards a flight for the former British colony. 

Taking advantage of the time change that effectively gives him a 36-hour day before he needs to return to Los Angeles, Harry embarks on a search through the densely populated country, armed with a still image extracted from the video sent by his daughter's captors that shows details that might lead to her location. He's operating unofficially, and on a wish and a prayer, with only his ex-wife, Eleanor Wish, and her ex-triad boyfriend for assistance.

The scenes in Hong Kong capture the country's essence, from the top of Victoria Peak all the way up to the New Territories, but 9 Dragons is by no means a travelogue. Connelly is able to drop in a few bits of local color and history, thanks to commentary by Harry's partners in crime, but Harry has no time or interest in tourist information. He has one goal that he can't take his his from.

For a book that involves such personal matters—Harry's strained relationship with his ex-wife and the threat to his daughter, 9 Dragons is a strangely unemotional and unsentimental novel. Because Harry's time in Hong Kong is so limited, he can't stop and reflect on profound events as they transpire. It's a fast-paced, action-packed super-day that changes Harry's life. His blind determination is his main tool.

The book is unfortunately predicated upon an unlikely juxtaposition of events. The most obvious of these is the fact that his daughter happens to be living in Hong Kong when he becomes involved in a case that ties in with Chinese gangs. Also, the sequence of clues that he follows overseas leads as inevitably from one location to the next as a scavenger hunt. A break in the clues at any point would doom his mission. To find one little girl in Hong Kong, especially given the time constraints, should be impossible. Instead, for Harry Bosch, it is just highly unlikely.

Back in L.A., the case breaks wide open and goes in an unexpected direction, which gives the book a satisfying ending, despite the house of cards upon which it is constructed. 

Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2009. All rights reserved.