Onyx reviews: The
Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly got his start in writing as a crime beat reporter, so he
knows whereof he speaks in creating the character of Jack McEvoy, a reporter for
the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Times whose greatest claim to fame is that he ended the reign of terror of the
serial killer dubbed the Poet. After those events, and the best-selling book he
wrote about the case, he landed a high-paying job
with the LA Times. Unfortunately, when the newspaper started cutting positions to
maintain its dwindling budget, McEvoy's hefty salary outweighed
his reputation. He is #99 out of 100 employees laid off in the current round.
His reputation gives him one advantage over the other dismissed employees: two weeks' notice. Most of his coworkers
were escorted from the building, clutching their
personal possessions in cardboard boxes.
His employer isn't doing this completely out of loyalty to McEvoy; rather,
they want him to train his replacement, Angela Cook, an eager young cub who will
probably be a fine reporter, but who lacks the street smarts and the connections
to provide the checks and balances that define the relationship between the
police department and the media. Jack worries about the stories she'll miss
because of her inexperience. It's not his problem, though.
Two weeks is also enough time for one last story, a chance to go out in a
blaze of glory. It's a kind of anticipatory schadenfreude. If the story is big
enough, it will make him more attractive when he goes on the job hunt, but it
will also be a way to make his soon-to-be-former employers look bad for dismissing
The case that comes across his desk doesn't look promising at first. A
distraught and angry grandmother makes a crank call to Jack after he writes an article
that merely parrots the information from a police report about a young black
drug dealer accused of murdering a white woman. Her grandson is innocent, she
maintains, and Jack feels just bad enough to dig deeper, though he figures the
story will be about the downward spiral of a young man rather than turning up
Angela Cook is a firecracker. She can file stories from the
field using her mobile device, and undercuts Jack at every chance, using his
stooped shoulders to climb the career ladder. However, her diligence turns up a
second murder victim who died under identical circumstances. The second victim's
husband is in prison for her death, so the fact that a serial killer seems
to be at work sets two men free.
Once McEvoy realizes the scope of the story he's on, he gets in touch with
Rachel Walling, the FBI agent who is perpetually in the doghouse with her
superiors, at least in part because of her romantic involvement with McEvoy. Her
cavalier disregard for bureau regulations in leaping to his assistance puts her
well on the way to joining McEvoy on the unemployment line.
McEvoy has much in common with Connelly's regular series protagonist,
Harry Bosch—his demeanor, world view, and marital status. Walling is a
little more enigmatic—stone cold as an agent and yet clearly smitten by
The serial killer's identity isn't a mystery to the reader. In fact, Wesley
introduced before McEvoy enters the story, though the nature of his exploits
takes a while longer to emerge. Connelly keeps readers up to date on the
killer's whereabouts and nefarious thought processes through frequent interludes.
As the threat detector at an underground data silo that stores confidential
files for companies around the country, Carver has access to information that
allows him to hand-pick his victims. When McEvoy starts getting close, the
killer uses his connections to mess with the reporter's credit cards and bank
Though the serial killer case is reasonably interesting, and the interactions
between McEvoy and Walling touching, the book's greatest strength is Connelly's insight into newspaper publishing.
He speaks the language of the business,
bandying around terms like leads, bullets, slugs, and story budgets. He
understands column inches and the importance of appearing above the fold. He has
also kept up to date with the changing face of the business, where stories often
break on the web the night before they hit the newsstands.
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