Sunday, September 23, 2018
Books

Review: In Connelly's compelling 'Wrong Side of Goodbye,' Bosch deciphers the past

Harry Bosch's idea of retiring is getting two new jobs.

The legions of fans of Michael Connelly's bestselling 19-book series about the Los Angeles detective can be grateful for that. In Connelly's new novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch has left the LAPD but can't quit chasing the bad guys.

Bosch didn't retire quietly; he sued the LAPD for forcing him out of his job on the cold case squad, and won. The settlement would let him kick back and relax, but, as any Bosch fan can tell you, he doesn't know how.

So he has gotten a private investigator's license and taken a part-time gig as a reserve (read: unpaid volunteer) officer for the San Fernando Police Department. It serves "an island city within the megalopolis of Los Angeles," just over 2 square miles in area, with a population that's 90 percent Latino. Hit by budget cuts, the town's police department is happy to have Bosch, who has a sterling record for solving cases (if not for interacting with authority figures).

The book begins, though, with Bosch visiting a private client in a very different part of the megalopolis, a posh old-money neighborhood in Pasadena. Like the book's title, the chapter nods to one of Connelly's crime-fiction role models, the great Raymond Chandler. There's even a line that echoes the perfect opening paragraph of Chandler's The Big Sleep, updated for the 21st century: "According to Wikipedia, he was calling on six billion dollars."

The man with all that money is Whitney Vance. He's a fourth-generation Californian, scion of a vast fortune begun by his great-grandfather during the Gold Rush. The solid-gold fountain pen on his desk is made from nuggets mined "in the Sierra Nevada goldfields in 1852," he tells Bosch.

The family soon moved into iron mines, steelmaking and, in Whitney Vance's era, aeronautics, including manufacturing the helicopters Bosch remembers flying in while he was serving in the Vietnam War. Each business has been more successful than the last.

Now Vance is very old, never married and facing the prospect of his wealth being carved up by his corporation's board after he's gone. He has a secret, and it's haunting him.

When he was an 18-year-old college student back in the early 1950s, Vance tells Bosch, he met "a Mexican girl." They fell in love, and she got pregnant. Vance's father was a proponent of eugenics, "the so-called science of improving the human race through controlled breeding," and he was horrified. The father forced a separation, and Vance never saw the girl — or loved anyone else — again.

He doesn't know what happened to her or whether she bore his child, but he wants Bosch to find out. He wants an heir to inherit his billions — even though he fears that powerful people don't want him to find one.

Meanwhile, back in San Fernando, Bosch is on the case of a serial rapist dubbed the Screen Cutter. The man has been linked to at least four attacks by his methods: gaining entry by slitting window or door screens, surprising his victims at midday, and wearing ski, Freddy Krueger or Lucha Libre wrestler's masks. Creepier yet, he seems to have intimate personal knowledge about his victims that they can't explain.

Because some of the victims are more comfortable speaking Spanish, Bosch is working with Bella Lourdes, a young detective in the San Fernando force who is a fluent Spanish speaker. They catch a break when the rapist makes another attempt and his intended victim fights back. He escapes but leaves behind evidence that will prove crucial.

Connelly is an old hand at weaving together several major plots. The two he creates in The Wrong Side of Goodbye are just the kind of plots that make the Bosch books so irresistible: They combine the procedural, with its emphasis on the detail-oriented mechanics of investigation, with engaging human stories to which both Bosch and the reader connect. Sometimes an investigation turns on something as small as a still-warm bag of fast food or that solid-gold pen; sometimes what leads Bosch to the truth is his talent for seeing into the human heart, for good or ill.

In his search for Vance's possible heir, Bosch dives into the past, following a trail made of the dry contents of old documents and the vivid memories of the living. His hunt for the Screen Cutter will become all too horribly present. Both cases, though, reverberate through families, and in turn echo into Bosch's personal relationships with his daughter, Maddie, now a college student, and his half brother, Mickey Haller (a.k.a. the Lincoln Lawyer), who provides essential assistance.

Connelly, who lives in Tampa and has won every major award for crime fiction, has created in Bosch one of the great characters in contemporary crime fiction. The driven detective is the heart not only of the books but of the Amazon TV series named for him, which was just renewed for a fourth season, even before filming of its third season is completed.

It seems nobody wants Harry Bosch to retire.

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

 
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