Michael Connelly’s shared Connellyverse became both a little larger and a little more fractured over the past year, what with the long-running Bosch show leaving Amazon Prime to become Bosch: Legacy on (Amazon-owned) Freevee, and The Lincoln Lawyer becoming a popular show on rival Netflix – good luck syncing those two worlds together. Still, longtime fans still have their original love to turn to, books, in this case Desert Star, the fifth collaboration between Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch.
After the events of last year’s The Dark Hours it looked like Renée Ballard had joined Bosch in saying goodbye to the LAPD for good, but fate had other plans. LA Councilman Jake Pearlman reactivates LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit, putting Ballard in charge of a new team of volunteers in the hope they’ll finally break the case of his younger sister, Sarah, who’s 30 year-old murder remains unsolved. Of course, Ballard quickly recruits Bosch to the team, and even the help of a genealogist specializing in genetics who also happens to be a psychic. Emblazoned over the unit’s door are words all too familiar to Bosch, words he lived by: Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts.
For Harry, it’s another chance of finally solving his own ‘white whale’ case; the brutal murder of Stephen Gallagher, an industrial contractor originally from Ireland, along with his wife and their two children, buried and forgotten in a single grave in the Mojave Desert. It was only by chance their remains were found; it could only be by the persistence of one man their killer brought to justice. They even had a suspect, Finbar McShane, the Irish immigrant, but the evidence wasn’t enough to seal the deal.
As Bosch revisits the location the Gallagher family was found he sees the protrusion of little yellow and white flowers sprouting around the area, desert stars built to withstand the harshest environments, not unlike a certain detective.
This sets up a new power dynamic that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever read a crime novel or watched a police drama; Bosch, the grizzled detective with questionable methods (but with a morality as pure as the driven snow), and his subordinate-turned-boss that trusts him implicitly yet questions those very methods at every turn. Bosch’s difficult history with the LAPD comes back to haunt Ballard as his involvement in the investigation could put the entire investigation, not to mention the cold cases unit, at risk.
And then there’s the age factor, which even the best fiction can only run so far from. When a potential suspect calls him an ‘old man’, Harry brushes it off with an acknowledgment of fact. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “I am an old man.”
Most interesting is how Connelly is beginning to settle Ballard in as the de facto replacement for Bosch, though he’s not above using Ballard’s gender to comment on the sexual dynamics – and disparities – women often endure in the workplace, even in law enforcement. When Ballard is sexually harassed by a judge when hunting down a serial killer it’s hard to fathom Bosch in the same scenario, which is probably the point.
Connelly is even prescient enough to continue transforming Bosch’s daughter, Maddie, from a side character into someone who will surely play a larger role moving forward. Freshly graduated from the academy and assigned to the Hollywood Division, her growing presence is perhaps the most telegraphed sign that even when the family patriarch is sunsetted the Bosch legacy will live on, fighting crime.
As we’ve come to expect from these Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch adventures, it feels more and more like Connelly is setting up for the inevitable passing of the baton moment for his gruff, aging detective, and in Desert Star that inevitability feels closer than ever. Because the Bosch character has transcended his mere literary beginnings and crossed over into the mainstream, I suspect any word of his imminent demise (I can’t imagine Connelly letting him go peacefully into the night) will be something of an event. Prepare yourselves.