Thurday Reviews: The Poet by Michael Connelly

The Poet

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly takes a break from Harry Bosch to look at a serial killer known as “The Poet.” He is difficult to spot because of his method of operation. The Poet kills homicide cops, making it look like a suicide and leaving notes behind that quote Edgar Allen Poe. The deaths are convincing as they follow the normal pattern of a cop suicide. There is always a hard-to-solve child killing that obsesses the cop. Two shots are taken, one supposedly to steel the nerves, the other do the deed. Only The Poet kills Denver homicide detective Sean McEvoy. Not only is Sean’s twin brother a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, Jack McEvoy specializes in writing about murders. After a short mourner’s leave, Jack looks at his brother’s death and talks with his sister-in-law. It doesn’t add up to suicide, and soon he has convinced the Denver Police and his editor that something more sinister is happening. McEvoy soon uncovers two more “suicides” and soon finds himself embedded in an FBI investigation. It’s about that time that pedophile photographer William Gladden gets into trouble with the Santa Monica Police, then leaves a body behind similar to the murder Sean McEvoy hoped to solve at the time of his death.

Connelly seems far more comfortable in Jack McEvoy’s skin than in Harry Bosch’s or Terry McCaleb’s (Blood Work, A Darkness More Than Night, The Narrows). At the same time, he is such a master at misdirection and miscues that he leaves The Poet’s true identity in flux until almost the last page. Like Reed Farrel Coleman (whose The Hurt Machine I’ll review next week), Connelly likes taking the standard, serviceable solution and tossing it out as soon as there’s a false climax in the story.

Connelly is also a tech savvy writer, lacing 1996 technology throughout the story to give the reader a feel for how things are done as a reporter or an FBI agent than trying to beat them over the head with geek speak. (A couple of writers from that era wrote some cringe-worthy tech passages that probably passed in the 90’s but would throw many readers out of the story now.) The end result is that the story has a feel for its time frame, sounding intentionally dated, but not obsolete.

Thursday Reviews: Blood Work by Michael Connelly, The Awareness by Terrie Farley Moran

Blood Work

Michael Connelly

FBI agent Terry McCaleb was felled not by a bullet by a heart virus. He spent a couple of years on the waiting list and received a heart transplant. Now he lives on disability and spends his recovery restoring his father’s boat, theĀ Following Sea. When the sister of the heart’s donor visits, however, McCaleb finds himself drawn back into the old life. She wants him to find who killed her sister, and she believes the man who received her heart would feel a debt to her. McCaleb agrees, running afoul of an egotistical LAPD detective but energizing a sheriff’s deputy’s career. It turns out that Gloria Rivers murder bears a lot more in common with an ATM robbery a couple of weeks earlier. Because of the way the killer behaved, both caught on surveillance tape, it’s clear these were not simple robberies. McCaleb, a career profiler, recognizes the signs of a serial killer. While explaining this, he rattles off a list of killers he’s dealt with since coming to Los Angeles, several familiar to fans of Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.

This one is a bit different from Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. McCaleb’s methods are almost like that of Mycroft Holmes, preferring to stare at evidence already gathered for long periods. He does this as well in A Darkness More than Night, in which Bosch is a major character. In Blood Work, however, McCaleb is only a few weeks out of the hospital and limited in mobility. He can get around well enough, but he is barred from driving, relying on a neighbor and on Graciela, Gloria’s sister, to get around LA’s sprawling metro area. The details of working with a transplanted heart are vivid, and in one scene, you cringe when a suspect panics and knocks McCaleb to the ground to escape. McCaleb’s chest is still knitting together, so any blow might damage his new heart. Not good, since he’s trying to find who killed the previous owner.

It’s a terrific crime thriller written by an author with an ear for language and an incredible eye for detail.

The Awareness and Other Deadly Tales

Terrie Farley Moran

Terrie Farley Moran, one of the Women of Mystery, releases a collection of her short stories. They run the gamut from a True Blood-type fantasy to an absurd Christmas story to a cynical look at lawsuits and their consequences. She begins with “The Awareness,” from which this book takes its title. A supernatural tale, it looks at that often-overlooked other-worldly denizen, the banshee. The protagonist is a 300-year-old banshee who lives in the guise of a young freelance reporter. When a member of a family she is to watch over is about to die, she assumes the form of the banshee so her wailing can guide the soul to the other side. Only this time, something’s not right. Her latest charge wasn’t supposed to die. It’s not nice to murder a banshee’s charge. She will get even.

The grittiest story is “Meet Me by the Priest,” referring to a statue near a church in Manhattan. A soldier in the waning days of World War II is looking to dodge a transfer to Alaska. Soon, he is dodging a thug who doesn’t appreciate him taking his girlfriend.

The story I liked best was “Civil Suit.” The mystery actually doesn’t happen until late in the story with a clever means of poisoning a victim in front of several witnesses. What makes this story is the circus that is municipal civil court. The bailiff, who narrates, paints an amusing picture of the characters involved in a lawsuit kicked down from the upper courts.