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Onyx reviews: The Narrows by Michael Connelly

The Poet was arguably one of Michael Connelly's finest novels to date, a character-driven serial killer tale focusing on an FBI agent and a journalist—related to one of the victims—investigating the murders of several homicide detectives. The killings were orchestrated to resemble suicides and the murderer's identity was unknown until a series of surprising twists. At the end, Connelly left the door ajar for the killer to return.

In The Narrows, Connelly brings together three disparate threads from his previous books: unresolved elements from The Poet; his occasional character, FBI profiler Terry McCaleb; and his primary protagonist, former LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch. The story is set several years after FBI agent Rachel Walling shot—and possibly killed—the Poet. She's always believed, however, that he would return, and when he did he would contact her.

McCaleb's widow asks Bosch, now a private investigator, to look into her husband's death, suspecting it was caused by something other than the failure of his transplanted heart. Walling, meanwhile, is in the Nevada desert, where several victims of a serial killer are being unearthed. For the past few years, she has been exiled to remote postings as punishment for getting personally involved with the Poet investigation journalist. The first section of The Narrows sets Walling and Bosch on a collision course, and the only question is: What will happen when they inevitably meet?

Her FBI superiors keep Walling on a short leash, constantly reminding her that she is in the doghouse. Bosch is a free agent, beholden to no one, so Walling uses him as her ticket into the heart of the investigation. They form an uneasy alliance—the LAPD and the FBI have never been buddies. The book shifts between Bosch's hardboiled first-person narration and Walling's third-person viewpoint. This is stylistically difficult to pull off, but Connelly does a decent job, especially during the climax when the two characters are in close proximity. The Poet is also shown occasionally to remind readers that he is orchestrating events.

Another risky decision Connelly makes is to have his characters aware of the Clint Eastwood movie Blood Work, depicting it as a fictionalized version of McCaleb's life instead of as an adaptation of a Connelly novel. The Poet, too, is converted into a true crime book, the work of Walling's former lover. This level of self-reference blurs the lines between fiction and reality and may make it more difficult for readers to immerse themselves fully in the story.

Whereas The Poet was a police procedural and a whodunit, in The Narrows the villain's identity is never in question. The novel is, therefore, more about the investigation and the investigators—primarily Bosch, who is being courted to rejoin the LAPD while trying to come to terms with the recent discovery that he has a young daughter. Bosch is jaded and somber, but not beyond hope. Learning that he has a child opens him up again, though he still has the loner instincts that cause him to bury himself in his work. In one telling scene, he falls asleep at his daughter's bedside, leaving an array of gruesome crime scene photos clearly visible on the floor around him.

The cleansing waters of the literal narrows—a raging concrete-bound river filled to capacity by rare heavy L.A. rains—wash the city clean. So, too, is Bosch gradually being cleansed of the demons that drove him from his lifelong profession.

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