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.