A scary view with 'The Overlook'

Michael Connelly raises the stakes in a new Harry Bosch novel.

By COLETTE BANCROFT, Times Book Editor
Published May 18, 2007

Harry Bosch comes off the cold case squad and right into the heat in Michael Connelly's terrific new novel, The Overlook.

This is Connelly's 13th book about Los Angeles police Detective Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, who debuted in 1992's The Black Echo and has been engaging readers ever since with his lone wolf idealism.

Connelly is one of the finest current practitioners of the hard-boiled detective form created by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Although it's perceived as pop lit, at its best it's a literary genre built upon a story archetype as old as myth: The sins of the past always shape the present.

So it makes perfect sense that Bosch's cases have reached backward, often into his personal and professional history, always into the history of Los Angeles, that quintessential American crime story setting.

In recent novels like The Closers and Echo Park, that movement into the past has been made explicit in Bosch's assignment to the cold case squad, which often had him revisiting his own failures.

Connelly makes a U-turn with The Overlook. Bosch has a new assignment, to the Homicide Special unit, which handles murders with "any sort of political, celebrity or media attachment." That translates to the hottest cases, not the cold ones. And the murder that kicks The Overlook into motion is so hot it sets off radiation monitors.

On one of those Mulholland Drive pullouts that offers a panoramic view of the city sprawling toward the sea, a passing patrol car has found a Porsche with its hood open - and a corpse.

Dr. Stanley Kent, a medical physicist, has been executed with two shots to the back of the head. In the car are ID passes for several local hospitals. On Kent's fingers are two red plastic rings.

Bosch barely has his crime scene bearings when his old friend and former lover Rachel Walling turns up. It seems her employer, the FBI, has an interest in Kent. Seems the rings are devices meant to monitor exposure to radiation.

In short order, Bosch and Walling find that Kent's wife has been left naked and hog-tied in their nearby home and that cesium, a radioactive material used to treat cancer, is missing from a hospital. In shorter order, Bosch is fighting to keep his grip on the case as the FBI and Homeland Security pile on, driven by the possibility that Kent was killed by terrorists after they forced him to steal materials that could be used to create a dirty bomb.

The Overlook originally appeared as a 16-part serial in the New York Times Magazine, although that version was fleshed out considerably for the novel. A former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Connelly has lived in Tampa for several years but still nails his Southern California setting in all its strange richness.

Connelly's books are always compellingly suspenseful, but this one runs in overdrive, with little time for Bosch's usual reflections on the past. The whole book takes place in barely half a day and bristles with ripped-from-the-headlines touches, from the frantic reactions of government agencies suspicious of terrorism to one suspect who sounds a lot like Sami Al-Arian.

There is a sense of Bosch looking toward the future, in his own curmudgeonly way, in his interactions with his new young partner, Iggy Ferras, even though they see the world very differently: "Under the glass top of his desk Ferras had a collage of photos of his bride. Under the glass on his side of the workstation Bosch had photos of murder victims whose killers he was still looking for."

Bosch may be bearing down on 60, but he's still in the hunt. Although there's an ominous note to The Overlook's ending, with its questions about radiation exposure and its echo of Chandler's The Big Sleep, the energy and skill Connelly continues to bring to this series will leave readers eager for Bosch's next case.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at 727 893-8435 or bancroft@sptimes.com.



The Overlook

By Michael Connelly

Little, Brown, 225 pages, $21.99



Michael Connelly will be signing books at 1 p.m. Saturday at Circle Books, 478 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.