There has been somewhat of a divergence of opinion concerning
NINE DRAGONS by Michael Connelly, the latest excursion into the
Harry Bosch canon. While some may disagree, I think this is his
best book. It is certainly my favorite, primarily because it slices
so deeply into Bosch’s personal life and at such cost.
NINE DRAGONS presents Bosch, an LAPD detective, as a bit
pricklier than he has been in previous outings, although he has not
reached this state without reason. Ignacio Ferras, his partner in
Homicide Special, has been a lost soul since being injured. He
leaves the office a minute or two earlier each day and appears to
be street shy when it comes to the door-to-door work that is part
and parcel to investigation. And as bad as this is, matters really
come to a head when the elderly owner of a neighborhood market is
murdered in his own store.
It turns out that Bosch had met the victim, a Chinese immigrant
named John Li, some years before and has fond memories of him.
Solving this crime and bringing Li’s murderer to justice
almost immediately becomes an obsession for Bosch. David Chu, an
investigator from the Asian Gangs Unit, is brought in to assist,
which is a problem for Bosch since he has trust issues outside of
his immediate zone of control. Chu accuses Bosch of being
prejudiced against Asians due to his experiences during the Vietnam
War as a tunnel rat. Bosch does acknowledge his prejudice against
Vietnamese people and is not proud of it. Despite the antagonism
that the two men share, it is not long before they have a suspect
in custody. The culprit is Bo-Jing Chang, a collection enforcer for
an offshoot of the Fourteen K, a dreaded Hong Kong triad.
No sooner is Chang arrested than Bosch receives a call warning
him to back off the case, an incident that convinces him there is a
leak in the investigation. But for Bosch, the worst is still to
come. When he receives a video indicating that his 13-year-old
daughter Madeline, who is living in Hong Kong with his ex-wife, has
been kidnapped, he immediately connects it to Chang’s arrest.
He catches a flight to Hong Kong, racing against time to rescue Mad
and return to Los Angeles before Chang’s arraignment hearing.
The account of Bosch’s time in Hong Kong, set forth in a
section of the book entitled “The 39-Hour Day,”
contains some of Connelly’s best writing ever: a
fish-out-of-water, edge-of-the-seat read wherein Bosch, his ex-wife
Eleanor, and Eleanor’s significant other, Sun Yee, race
through the streets of one of the world’s most crowded
cities, searching for a most important needle in an increasingly
hostile haystack. Before their search is over, Bosch’s life
and the lives of others will be forever changed.
Connelly’s vision in NINE DRAGONS is cinematic in scope;
as with the best storytelling, the narration unfolds frame by frame
like a film for the mind. He also adds some new dimensions to
Bosch’s personality: some touching, others not so much. The
result is a character who grows more realistic with each book. Add
in Connelly’s trademark elements --- such as unexpected cameo
appearances and bombshell revelations --- and you have an
unforgettable and haunting reading experience.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010