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Onyx reviews: Echo Park by Michael Connelly

The problem in reviewing an installment in an ongoing series—Echo Park is the 12th novel featuring Michael Connelly's protagonist Harry Bosch—is that much of the groundwork for the character depends upon what has gone before. It's virtually impossible treat the novel as an isolated entity. Though the plot may be self-contained, the character is passing through another arc in his life experience.

Detective Bosch is still with the Open—Unsolved Unit, investigating cold cases after his abortive attempt at early retirement. He's obsessed by two things these days, which is about average for him. First, he's supporting a candidate running for City Council against his nemesis, former Deputy Chief Irvin Irving. He's also pulled from storage—for the third time in a year—the file for an unsolved thirteen-year-old murder case on which he and his former partner were the primary investigators.

Marie Gesto's body was never found, though her vehicle turned up shortly after her disappearance, parked in the garage of a landmark Hollywood apartment complex (most famously the home of noir author Raymond Chandler and of detective Philip Marlowe in the movie version of The Long Sleep). Though Bosch is sure she's dead—and has a vaguely viable candidate for her killer, the son of a wealthy businessman—the case haunts him.

He receives a call from a detective from a different division requesting the Gesto file. The detective is acting on behalf of prosecutor Rick O'Shea, a strong candidate in the upcoming District Attorney election. Marie Gesto has been a part of Bosch's life for so long he can't simply turn over the file. He has to attach himself to whatever O'Shea has planned.

A serial killer named Reynard Waits was caught red-handed with the mutilated bodies of two women in the back of his van in Echo Park—near Dodger Stadium—and now he wants to make a plea bargain. In exchange for having the death sentence taken off the table, the killer will confess to setting a pawnbroker on fire during the 1992 LA riots, the murder of Marie Gesto and nine other unknown murders. The plea bargain fits well with O'Shea's agenda, since a trial wouldn't take place until after the election. Resolving nearly a dozen murders will play out very well in the media.

Bosch discovers that one of the killer's aliases appears in his Gesto case file, but no one had followed up the lead. He is haunted by the fact that he might have caught Waits years ago and stopped the man's reign of terror. The lives of nine murdered women weigh heavily on his conscience. The fact that he is participating in a deal that will keep Waits alive infuriates him, but it is the price that must be paid to close these cases. The political currency—the boost to O'Shea's candidacy—is too strong a force to overcome.

During the field trip to unearth Gesto's body, things go bad fast. Police officers are killed and seriously wounded—including Bosch's partner—and the serial killer is on the loose again. With the assistance of former lover and FBI profiler Rachel Walling, Bosch begins to suspect that he has been played—that his well-known obsession with the Gesto case made him an easy target in a diabolical plan to cover up the true identity of a killer. However, Bosch's hubris gets the better of him. His single-mindedness almost proves his undoing.

Bosch is one of the more flawed protagonists in crime fiction. There are other detectives who are equally incorruptible, compulsive and determined, but Bosch raises these attributes to an art. Though he's frequently pushed to the outside of investigations because of his high-handedness, he sometimes finds himself pursuing the wrong suspects, unwilling to accept that his logic may be faulty. His obsessive nature makes him a natural loner. Even when Walling re-enters his life—and his bedroom—he can't stop thinking about the case long enough to pay serious attention to their relationship. He shows her videotaped interviews while they are in bed and spends romantic days with her burrowing through moldy old boxes of evidence.

Waits was obsessed with killing his mother over and over again; until recently Bosch was obsessed with finding who murdered his mother when he was twelve. Bosch and Waits were both residents of the same orphanage, though in different decades. During a climactic scene, Waits says that he "fed the wrong dog. Every man has two dogs inside—one good and one bad. They fight all the time because only one can be the alpha dog, the one in charge. The one that wins is always the dog you chose to feed. I fed the wrong one."

In Echo Park, Bosch learns that he's probably been feeding both internal dogs, occasionally pitting themselves against each other.

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