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
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
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.
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