Michael Connelly’s blazing new novel opens with a funeral and a fire. For the book’s two protagonists, those events come uncomfortably close to their own lives.
The funeral Harry Bosch attends is that of the detective who was his most important mentor in the Los Angeles Police Department — and, as Bosch nears 70, a reminder of his own mortality. He’s recovering from knee surgery and has just found out that his massive exposure to radioactive material years ago (in 2007′s The Overlook) has had a dire consequence.
For LAPD Detective Renée Ballard, her call to a Hollywood homeless camp where a dead man lies enshrouded by his melted tent is an uneasy echo of her own tent on Venice Beach, the closest thing she has to a home.
The Night Fire is Connelly’s 33rd novel, his 21st about Bosch and the second to team Bosch and Ballard. She was introduced in The Late Show in 2017 and worked with Bosch in last year’s Dark Sacred Night.
RELATED: Read a review of The Late Show.
Bosch is retired (unwillingly) and works with Ballard off the books. They make a fierce team; Bosch is clearly the teacher, but Ballard stands her ground. When he’s trying to talk her into helping him with a cold case, she asks why he thinks they can solve it.
"'Because you have that thing,' Bosch said. ‘That fire. We can do this and bring that boy some justice.’
“'Don’t start with the “justice” thing. Don’t bulls--t me, Bosch.'”
The cold case came to Bosch through that funeral. He was trained by a legendary homicide detective named John Jack Thompson, and it was after his burial that Thompson’s widow passed along a murder book she found in his office. Bosch knows it’s not uncommon for retired detectives to take a murder book (a collection of notes and evidence) to work an unsolved case — he has done it himself. But there’s no indication Thompson ever worked this case of the shooting death, possibly drug-related, of a young man named John Hilton. Bosch doesn’t want to contemplate the possibility that Thompson was covering up the case rather than solving it, so he throws himself into pursuing it, with Ballard’s help.
Still assigned to the Late Show, as the overnight shift is called, Ballard passes along the case of the unidentified man in the tent, leaving it to others to ascertain whether his death was an accident or a crime. It will come back around to her, but in the meantime she becomes even more involved with the Hilton cold case than Bosch does.
That leaves him time to pursue yet another case when he’s hired by his half brother, defense lawyer Mickey Haller, as an investigator. Haller has what seems to be an impossible assignment: defending a mentally ill man who is charged with murdering a judge. Despite DNA evidence and a taped confession, Haller and Bosch clear him. To Mickey that’s a pure win, but to Bosch it means there’s still a killer out there, and he can’t resist finding out who it is.
Several of Connelly’s recent books have opened up Bosch’s and Ballard’s personal lives and backstories to some degree. The Night Fire focuses more on their investigations and is closer to pure procedural, with those multiple cases structured and linked in a virtuoso performance of plotting.
We do get glimpses of their lives, especially Bosch’s warm relationship with daughter Maddie, now in college, and Ballard’s ongoing struggle to work for the superior whose sexual harassment of her led not to his punishment but to her demotion.
Readers in the Tampa Bay area, where Connelly lives part of the time, will pick up some local references, including a side story about a double murder at the Palma Ceia Country Club and a fictional police chief who shares a name with an old-school figure in Tampa journalism.
But mostly The Night Fire glows with the instincts and intelligence Bosch and Ballard bring to their pursuit of the truth. From bleak sidewalks where the homeless live and die to law offices in glittering Bunker Hill high-rises, they follow the case.
The Night Fire
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 405 pages, $29