Friday, December 07, 2012
Book review: "The Overlook", by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly is a good writer. No, make that a great writer. I haven't found a book of his yet that doesn't keep me turning the pages, often late into the night.
The Overlook (Vision, 2008; 262 pages) is not an exception. This is true even though I've read it before, although not in exactly this version. Written originally as a serial for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, I read it first in its reworked hardcover version. The version I read this time has an extra chapter added to the end of the book. This extra chapter, a sort of epilogue, was originally written as an "extra" for Connelly's mailing list, but was included in the paperback edition of the novel.
In The Overlook, LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch is called out in the middle of one night to the scene of a murder at an overlook along Mulholland Drive. Very quickly, the murder starts looking like part of a plot by terrorists to gain access to some radioactive material; the victim was a physicist who transported such material to hospitals for use in treatments for cancer patients. Because of the suspicions of terrorist involvement in the crime, it isn't long before the LAPD's Office of Homeland Security and the FBI both become involved in the case. Both try to freeze Bosch and his partner out of the investigation.
It isn't long, however, until Bosch begins to suspect that there is something very wrong with how the case is being viewed. What follows is an exercise in showing that even law enforcement, on all levels, sometimes sees what it wants to see, or what it thinks it could be to its advantage to see, rather than what is really there. I won't reveal any more of the plot, except to say that there are twists in the plot that you might not see coming.
An interesting part of the novel's construction, or at least it is interesting to me, is that the whole story takes place within a span of approximately twelve hours. I've read novels of the same length that take place over months or years. What Connelly does so well here is to manage the detail in which the story is told so that it doesn't become boring or repetitive.
As a writer, I'm interested in the ways in which writers choose to tell their stories and in studying what works for them and what doesn't work. This novel works very well, combining suspense, action, and what I took to be social and political comment (which might be just me; I don't know what Connelly had in mind when he was writing the story) in a way that is never dull.
The Overlook is a quick read. That suited me very well, as I've been engaged in some pretty heavy reading recently, as research for some writing I'm doing (some of which could conceivably appear here sooner rather than later), and reading this was a refreshing change from all of that. It was nice to sit down and be able to finish the book in a couple of days even though those days have been busier than usual.
Now that I think about it, reading The Overlook has put me in the mood to go back and read (or re-read) all of Connelly's Harry Bosch novels, in order. That might be a good project for next year's reading.