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Book Review: Scarecrow, Michael Connelly

July 21, 2009

I never expect to be disappointed by a Michael Connelly novel. And I never have been, not since the day I picked up The Black Echo, all those years ago. I’m no great fan of detective novels or police procedurals, but something about Connelly’s epic, mystic creation, Harry Bosch, resonated with me, and I’ve stuck with him ever since. Even his non-Bosch novels — the standalones Void Moon and Chasing the Dime, Blood Work, and his masterpiece, The Poet — kicked me in the jeans like no other mainstream crime writer. His latest creation, backseat defence lawyer Mickey Haller, has pounded through two fantastic books so far, with more to come.

Over the past few books, Connelly’s worlds are starting to converge. Terry McCaleb, the hero of Blood Work (played by Clint Eastwood in the film) pops up in a Bosch book. Jack McEvoy, the reporter star of The Poet, wanders in and out of other novels. Haller and Bosch have a connection. Even Cassie Black, the rascally heroine of Void Moon, rates a sneaky mention here and there. It’s always handled well, and never becomes a what-the-hell moment; the reader believes, easily, that Connelly is writing about a connected world of crime and criminals. It works. Connelly can do no wrong, and like I said, I never expect to be disappointed.

However.

I have just finished The Scarecrow, Connelly’s sequel to The Poet. Superstar crime reporter Jack McEvoy is back, this time serving out his last two weeks after being laid off by the L.A. Times in the midst of an economic slump that’s hurting newspapers. Where have I heard that story before? Oh yeah, it’s my life, except for the part about being a superstar crime reporter.

Connelly, a former crime reporter in Los Angeles, nails the crisis affecting newspapers in his first few pages. Brilliant stuff. Writing as McEvoy, he explains exactly why a 40-ish reporter who came of age in the 1980s is irrelevant in the 21st century, or at least why newspaper managers would think so. He said the same thing I’ve been saying in the six months since my employer told me a just-out-of-J-school kid in Toronto would be doing my job from now on for a quarter of the salary. I soaked Connelly’s words up, nodding, reading sections out loud to Elizabeth, saying “He gets it! He really gets it!”

But then it goes south. McEvoy, as he does, learns something about a seemingly straightforward murder case and before long is on the trail of an organized serial killer who uses the Internet as a weapon. After the first few random leaps of logic, I was still with him. Hey, I watch Star Trek. I can take random leaps of anything.

However.

  • McEvoy figures things out that he shouldn’t be able to see, with the available facts. This book is told largely in first person, so we know what Jack knows.
  • FBI agent Rachel Walling, another character threaded throughout Connelly’s books, does stupid thing after stupid thing, for no apparent reason.
  • The killer uses the Internet in ways taken right from that Sandra Bullock movie, The Net. You know, like in real life.
  • Too much happens too fast. The slow buildup and creeping menace of the Bosch novels — and The Poet, for that matter — is absent here; this was written like a John Grisham book: with the movie rights in mind from Page 1, if not already sold. There’s a stupid action sequence every 50 pages or so, and we are suddenly expected to believe that Jack McEvoy would be played by Bruce Willis circa Die Hard.
  • Nothing makes much sense, until the ending, which is rushed, silly and suffers from McEvoy’s final, and telegraphed from the second chapter, deduction.

So was I disappointed? Yes. But to be honest, I kind of expected it going in, come to think of it. Connelly is really cranking books out these days — two this year, in fact — and something had to suffer. But every great writer is allowed a misstep now and then. It’s just too bad it had to be the book about the reporter, the book that started off with such personal depth for me.

I didn’t like this one much, but I quite enjoyed The Brass Verdict (the book before this one). And I can always go back and re-read Lost Light, or Trunk Music, or even The Poet again if I want to. You could, too.

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One comment

  1. Oh dear. Connelly’s one of my favourite authors. I’m a few books behind at the moment so it will be a while before I get to this one. I thought The Poet was excellent. It’s one of the few novels I’ve re-read.

    What did you think of the film Blood Work? I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Eastwood for it. I hated it with a passion.



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