Jack McEvoy first appeared in 1996 in The Poet and it was 13 years before we next met him again in The Scarecrow so he’s well overdue for another outing. Now Michael Connelly’s dogged investigative journalist is back in a story that’s bang up to the minute.
For starters, former dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman McEvoy is now employed by FairWarning.org, a real life (click the link) campaigning website focusing mainly on consumer issues. When we are first reacquainted with him, he’s putting the finishing touches to an exposé of a prolific con artist who has diversified into running training courses to share the secrets of his nefarious trade with other would-be confidence tricksters – including an undercover McEvoy.
Yes, it’s crime, but it’s not quite the cut and thrust of McEvoy’s heyday as a reporter running the police beat for the LA Times, so when he has a real-life murder story dropped in his lap he doesn’t hesitate. After all, he’s got the inside track – he once dated the dead woman, and the police are treating him as a person of interest in the death of Tina Portrero. For most people, it would be time to step back and smell the roses, but McEvoy jumps in with both feet, and is soon ruffling the feathers of both the LAPD detectives investigating the case, and his boss, Myron.
McEvoy’s an old school journo who won’t give up once he’s got the scent of an exclusive – and his determination lands him in jail for a night. But will this stop our hero of the moment? Not on your life! As he begins to dig deeper, McEvoy uncovers a link between Tina and other women who were offed in this killer’s particularly distinctive manner. They were dispatched by means of atlanto-occipital dislocation – essentially decapitated internally, their heads ending up at a 180 degree angle from the rest of the body. Yikes!
There’s a serial killer on the loose, and when McEvoy uncovers a link to the victims and a cut-price DNA search site, he realises he’s out of his depth. Soon, he is reconnecting with Rachel Walling, now out of the FBI (thanks to what happened in The Scarecrow) and running her own company, working background checks for big clients. These two have a history, both professionally and romantically, and both aspects come into play once more as Fair Warning unfolds. Jack McEvoy may be something of a lone wolf, but the best scenes are when he is working with someone else, and the narrative really comes alive when he and Rachel are together again.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is really of the moment. It sets out its stall by opening with a scene inside an electric car (it’s a Tesla, and the killer’s vehicle of choice), takes a foray into the Dark Web and fake news and even features ‘incel’ – a male-dominated movement which takes its name from a contraction of ‘involuntarily celibate’ and is characterised by acts of misogyny and violence against women.
But no matter how modern-day the subject, there’s still plenty of that good old fashioned storytelling which Michael Connelly does so well. He takes you into the nuts and bolts of modern-day journalism and demonstrates that not all reporters are as unreliable as current opinion would have you believe. The up-against-the-deadline moments zing, in contrast to some of the more ‘scientific’ moments which demand a little more focus from the reader.
So where does this latest episode fit in the McEvoy opus? For me, The Poet still stands as the best in the series, but Fair Warning comes a close second. Welcome back, Jack McEvoy – we’ve missed you. And judging by the finale of this book, perhaps we might see you again in the future?
CFL Rating: 4 Stars