Classics in September — The Black Echo by Michael Connelly — Anyone over a certain age will know what I’m talking about. You’re listening to the radio when a song you’ve not heard for a while comes on. Soon you’re singing along – and you know all the words too. The kick comes at the end of the song when the DJ says, ‘…And that little number took us back to 1972.’ It’s then you realise that it’s 40 years old. Yikes!
I got a similar sensation when I picked up this copy of The Black Echo, emblazoned with the legend: 20th Anniversary Edition. Double yikes! It came as a mighty shock to realise that LAPD Detective Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch and I have been acquainted for two whole decades. Now he’s back thanks to this special re-release from Orion.
Over the years, I’ve come to know and love Harry, and to admire his creator, Michael Connelly. Like me, Connelly is a former news reporter. Unlike me, he’s found fame and fortune as a best-selling crime fiction writer. The acclaim he has received is well deserved – I think Harry is up there among the top crime creations of the late-20th and early-21st centuries, alongside the likes of Jack Reacher, Rebus, Inspector Lynley and Lincoln Rhyme.
It was strange to go back to the very beginning with him, and re-reading the book reminded me how interesting and complicated Harry is. It is difficult to establish a character from page one, but Connelly succeeds on every level.
Of course, the name is a great starting point, and a masterstroke by the author. Harry was called after a 15th century Dutch artist by his mother, a prostitute who died a violent death. Hieronymus Bosch was known for his dark, gothic, sin- and guilt-filled paintings. Harry’s early life was spent in children’s homes and foster care, and it’s this background that makes him so unique.
He also served as a ‘tunnel rat’ in Vietnam, and it is this part of his background that is at the heart of The Black Echo, a term coined by the tunnelers to describe the fear of going underground on a mission against the Vietcong. When the body of a former army comrade is found in a drainage pipe off Mulholland Drive, first impressions are that it’s a simple drug overdose. But Harry isn’t convinced, and when he spots a fresh puncture wound among a web of old scars on the body, his instincts tell him to delve further.
His investigation soon links up with an unsolved and extremely inventive bank caper – where the thieves tunneled into the vault over a holiday weekend. And Harry’s love of going it alone is dampened by being partnered up with FBI agent Eleanor Wish. Could they become more than just workmates?
Connelly set the bar high in this first book and has continued to deliver ever since. The plot is well-researched and complex – and has a last minute twist that still surprises.
The Black Echo also works as a piece of social history and readers who are more used to the ultra-modern practices of today’s detectives may well be taken aback at how fast things have moved along in the past 20 years. No mobile phones here – Harry is always asking people he is interviewing if he can use their telephone. He is usually contacted by pager, and early on in the book he asks a colleague to use the Mobile Computer Unit in one of the squad cars. Yes, it was the early 90s and not a sniff of a laptop.
Additional material with the 20th Anniversary Edition includes a short interview with the author and a feature on the origins of the book. There’s also a tempting little taster of Harry’s newest adventure, The Black Box, which is out in November. Can’t wait!
I don’t often re-read a novel, but I really enjoyed the experience this time. It’s that still-fresh quality that makes this book a classic for me. Give it a try and see if you agree.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars