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Onyx reviews: Echo Park by Michael Connelly

The Overlook was originally serialized in sixteen parts in the New York Times Magazine. At a signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, Michael Connelly said he had no idea what he was committing himself to when he agreed to write a book this way. The constraints of the format meant that each installment had to be a complete chapter of roughly the same length: 3000 words. That meant some chapters were trimmed to fit and others padded. This rigid structure ran counter to Connelly's normal approach.

Given the opportunity to produce the book in the form he originally intended, Connelly restored lost material and added over 20,000 words. Even so, at just over 200 pages The Overlook is a slight work compared to the usual Harry Bosch novel. Not a novella, exactly, but a taut, lean story. Taking a leaf from the TV series 24, approximately twelve hours elapse between the middle-of-the-night call assigning the case to Harry and its resolution.

Harry's no longer with the Open-Unsolved Unit. The Echo Park case "went sideways," as did his burgeoning romance with FBI officer Rachel Walling. Now he's working Homicide Special with a new partner who wants to be called Iggie. Even Rachel knows that's never going to happen.

The murder victim's body is found on the Hollywood overlook not far from Harry's house. It looks like a hit-the vic has dirt on his knees as if he was forced to his knees before being shot. Rachel arrives at the scene at about the same time as Harry. Despite his unresolved feelings about her, he knows her presence is bad news. Rachel's dedication to her job means she must frequently dissemble and lie to Harry, though she expects him to be completely square with her.

Soon, Harry feels the case slipping away from him. The Feds are less concerned with the murder than with the fact that the victim was a medical physicist with access to radioactive material, some of which is now missing. The cesium has substantial commercial value, so the theft might have been motivated by money. However, in this post-9/11 era, the natural inference is that it's terrorism-related, especially since the doers reportedly spoke a middle-eastern language and a witness reported hearing the word "Allah" during the murder. Though the stolen cesium pellets were designed to treat cancer, the Feds think they could be used to manufacture a dirty bomb or create a radiation incident at a public location.

Smothered by an alphabet soup of agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and its inept Los Angeles counterpart (run by Captain Hadley, who the locals refer to as Captain Done Badly), Harry does his level best to keep involved. The Feds arrange, postpone and cancel briefings, and snatch up evidence and key witnesses. Harry returns the favor when he hides a Madonna stalker who witnessed the execution.

There's the big picture and the small picture-national security versus a homicide. Harry believes the path to the resolution of the situation is to identify the murderers, but he's just about the only one. Even his partner doesn't approve of Harry's rogue behavior, especially when Harry mixes it up with an arrogant FBI agent and circumvents chain of command to orchestrate a meeting with the Chief of Police at his favorite donut shop.

Though there's not much time for character development, Connelly does offer a glimpse into Harry's past-a scene from Vietnam and the revelation of his nickname while in country: Hari Kari Bosch. It's thoroughly consistent with what readers have learned about Harry through a dozen previous episodes.

By the end of Chapter 22, the mystery has been neatly wrapped up, through persistence and happenstance rather than brilliant detection. The solution more or less drops into Harry's lap-though to his credit he does put all the pieces together, seeing the real picture instead of the illusion.

However, Harry is left in uncertain circumstances. For readers curious about his well-being, Connelly offers Chapter 23 on his web site, a scene that provides resolution and may indicate what sort of case Harry will be undertaking in his next full-length adventure.

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