Published by Little, Brown and Company
400 pages, 2003
Act of Devotion
Reviewed by David Montgomery
At the end of Michael Connelly's last Harry Bosch novel, City of Bones, the veteran LAPD detective had finally had enough. Worn out by years of fierce battles with the department brass and tired of a life filled only with loss, he walked away from it all. Turning in his shield and gun, Harry retired from the only job he'd ever known.
He might have abandoned his career, but as Bosch relates more than once in Lost Light, there are some cases, especially the unsolved ones, that stick with you no matter what. Harry has a few like that. One case in particular, though, troubles him more than most.
Four years ago, Harry (short for Hieronymous) was the investigating detective in a complicated homicide inquiry. A young woman named Angella Benton had been found murdered near her home, with no obvious explanation for the crime. What struck Bosch, however, and remained with him over the years, was the position of the body: in death, Angella's hands seemed to be clasped together as if in prayer. Even now, years later, the cop-turned-private eye is determined to answer that prayer and ensure that justice is done.
With Harry, the mission is everything. For a long time he thought it was the job, tracking down killers and bringing them to justice. But that was only a part of it. His true mission, he has discovered, is to stand up for the dead. Those who are lost and too often forgotten have a champion in him. It is not his choice, not even his duty; it is simply what he does, what we're told he must do:
There is no end of things in the heart. Somebody once told me that. She said it came from a poem she believed in. She understood it to mean that if you took something to heart, really brought it inside those red velvet folds, then it would always be there for you. No matter what happened, it would be there waiting. She said this could mean a person, a place, a dream. A mission. Anything sacred. She told me that it is all connected in those secret folds. Always. It is all part of the same and will always be there, carrying the same beat as your heart. I am fifty-two years old and I believe it.
Now that he has more time on his hands, Bosch is ready to return to the Benton case. He digs out his old files and begins to retrace the investigation, searching for the overlooked clues and missing links that left the crime without a resolution.
Along the way, Harry encounters an intriguing collection of characters both new and old. Lawton Cross is one of the former, a former Robbery-Homicide dick, shot and paralyzed in the line of duty, who has vital information about the case. More familiar is FBI agent Roy Lindell (from 1997's Trunk Music), who shows up unexpectedly with a personal interest in the investigation. Bosch even runs into a familiar face that will bring a smile of recognition to fans of Robert Crais. (Hint: He shares the same first name as the King of Rock 'n' Roll and drives a yellow Corvette.)
Loyal readers of Connelly's series have gotten to know Harry pretty well over the past eight books (beginning with 1992's The Black Echo), and they'll learn even more in this one. The pain of Bosch's troubled, lonely life has always been an important part of the series and it is on display here again. He is a good, if cold man, capable of loving, but haunted by the ghosts of his present, as well as his past. He remains one of the most multifaceted, fascinating characters in the crime fiction world. As for what happens to him in Lost Light's shocking, moving final scene ... well, it will take your breath away.
Unlike most detective series, the Bosch books have always been written in the third-person. Now, with Lost Light, Connelly takes us for the first time inside Harry's head, telling his story from the first-person perspective. It's a nice touch that helps us get an even better understanding of this complex man. Although the change of viewpoint doesn't represent a significant departure -- you probably won't even notice unless you're looking for it -- it does add some subtle and welcome shadings to this book's flavor.
Connelly's skill as a prose craftsman remains in full force. He writes about the city of Los Angeles and its environs as poignantly and beautifully as anyone since Nathanael West:
Hollywood was always best viewed at night. It could only hold its mystique in darkness. In sunlight the curtain comes up and the intrigue is gone, replaced by a sense of shared danger. It was a place of takers and users, of broken sidewalks and dreams. You build a city in the desert, water it with false hopes and false idols, and eventually this is what happens. The desert reclaims it, turns it arid, leaves it barren. Human tumbleweeds drift across its streets, predators hide in the rocks.
The author's lush descriptions are equally matched by the many layers of his complicated characters. Connelly is one writer who brings his "A game" almost every time out, and Lost Light is no exception. His writing has always had the rhythm of pulsating jazz, the kind of music you hear played by aging musicians in dark, smoky clubs. Appropriately, a special-edition jazz CD titled Dark Sacred Night is being released along with the hardcover edition of this book. (For a short time, U.S. readers can visit one of these bookstores to get a copy. Others are SOL.) Featuring the music of such legendary jazzmen as Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, the album makes a fine soundtrack for Bosch's life.
Long-running series have a tendency to grow stale over the years, especially when the lives of their characters vary little with the passing of time. That is one trap Connelly has fortunately avoided. With the end of Bosch's career as a cop, he has entered into a new era and a new dimension of his existence. The possibilities are wide open enough to be almost limitless. The future looks bright for Harry Bosch, as well as his fans. | April 2003