After the explosive, action-packed finale in last year’s The Crossing, retired LAPD detective Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch could certainly use a break. The Wrong SIde of Goodbye, the 21st entry in Michael Connelly’s long-running series, gives Bosch two entirely different cases to tackle at once. While the rules of pulp fiction typically demand unearned coincidences and resolutions that make little sense, Connelly has the audacity to subvert genre expectations by having his beloved detective actually work on cutting through the nonsense and (gasp) solving the mystery. Will wonders never cease?
Having successfully sued the LAPD for forcing him into early retirement, Bosch acts as a private investigator to help pay for his daughter’s college. This availability brings him to the attention of one Whitney Vance, a 85-year old billionaire tycoon who turned a small family inheritance into an even biggest one when his company Advance Engineering profited heavily during the Vietnam War.
Seemingly on death’s door – and without an heir to inherit his sizable fortune – Vance has a most unusual request for Bosch: to find someone who may have never even existed. Vance admits to a brief fling with a Mexican student, Vibiana, 50 years back, resulting in a pregnancy that may or may not have made Vance a father. Vance asks Bosch to track her down, in complete secrecy, to answer the familial question once and for all.
The second case comes from Bosch’s pro bono work at San Fernando’s reserve unit, a gig that provides him things freelancing can’t: a detective’s badge and access to all the city’s unsolved cases. While working through unresolved sex crimes at the SFPD, Bosch links a series of rapes that lead to the existence of a serial rapist, dubbed ‘The Screen Cutter’ for the mask-wearing suspect’s penchant for cutting through his victim’s screen windows before using the same knife to cut through their clothes. In a strange twist, the rapist may be targeting his victims’ based on their menstrual cycle and immigrant status, adding a new dimension of vileness that calls for quick action before others are hurt.
I won’t give away the resolution here, but props to Connelly for not succumbing to the oldest – and lamest – trick when playing through tandem mysteries; Bosch handles both cases like the pro he is, using methodical logic and old-school detective work to uncover the mystery behind 50-year old decaying undeveloped film, or previously unconnected evidence hiding right out in the open.
While Connelly have proven he’s cable of adding layers of depth and nuance to what otherwise might have been stock characters, the Harry Bosch here is strictly business; apart from a few intimate calls with his daughter Maddie, now away at college, there’s nothing keeping the man from his mission (or in this case, missions). While the character may be legendary on the page, in his fictional world he’s often regarded as an annoyance, disrespected by top brass and others he comes across for just doing his job against corruption and sleaze. In our real world of literary snobs, some consider Bosch a relic; a straightforward by-the-numbers hero without much in the way of pathos in an age of flawed heroes. There may be some truth to that, but for those who crave actual sleuthing and mysteries in their detective fiction, few things can top Connelly’s factly, researched hero.
Unlike Amazon’s live-action serial Bosch, which updated the character’s military service to that of a Gulf War vet, the written Bosch remains a veteran of the Vietnam War. This distinction comes into play more than once here, as fans learn more about Bosch’s military service than ever, and how these events helped shape the man – and detective – he ultimately became. An early prologue suggests a possible connection between Bosch and one of the mysteries here, but not everything is what is seems, and Connelly is too good a writer to be so obvious.
Also, as we’ve come to expect from recent Bosch novels, Connelly’s other meal-ticket, Mickey Haller (i.e. The Lincoln Lawyer, also Bosch’s half-brother) plays an important role in helping the grizzled detective at key moments. As much fun as it’s been to see Haller swoop in to help save the day again and again, it’s been years since the character starred in his adventure, 2011’s The Fifth Witness, so his time in the spotlight is probably overdue. Speaking of Mickey Haller, when’s the next live-action movie coming out? Maybe a guest appearance on the Amazon show? Matthew McConaughey should still be available…
Decades of badly written detective fiction and countless hours of equally deplorable detective television serials (almost entirely on basic cable) have probably conditioned readers to expect certain elements from paperback thrillers as characters, scenarios, or situations rarely make appearances without having some effect on the outcome. Like artery-choking grease from fast food burgers, this lazy perversion of Chekhov’s famous ‘Gun Rule’ shouldn’t be confused with cleverness or quality.
Thankfully, Michael Connelly remains one of sausage-factory fiction’s most resilient, stable masters; a steady ship in turbulent waters that typically churn out more chum than charm. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is as good as anything he’s ever written, working better at straight detective fiction than most anything else on the supermarket aisles these days. It’s always a pleasure to spend more time with Harry Bosch and his beloved cityscapes, though given the character’s strained on-off again relationship with the LAPD and his (realistic) age, there’s an undeniable sense the end is nearing. Best enjoy these adventures while you can, because there’s nothing else quite like them.