The Poet - Michael Connelly

The Poet (Jack McEvoy, #1)


Michael Connelly

 As a crime reporter, Jack McEvoy has spent a lifetime asking victims and their relatives intrusive questions about their feelings and emotions. He even has the scars to show for it. Now, with his brother's suicide, he's on the other side of the interview table. But Jack is unwilling to believe that his brother, a happily married policeman, would commit suicide, no matter how troubled he had become by a recent child kidnapping case. Jack feels compelled to research and report his brother's emotions and reasons, but as he begins to investigate, he discovers troubling evidence that indicates the presence of a vicious serial killer. After blackmailing his way into FBI confidence, Jack becomes embroiled in a case that involves victims across the US and puts himself at risk.

After reading The Lincoln Lawyer, I found Jack a pleasant change from the callous, scheming, sleazy Mickey Haller. Jack also lacks at least some of Harry Bosch's rather terrifying self-righteousness and propensity to violence. I did not understand Jack's reaction to his brother's death; I can understand wanting to investigate privately, but not publicizing his grief and struggle to comprehend his brother's actions. However, I found Jack, with his numerous insecurities and rather touching arrogance, a sympathetic and likeable protagonist. Probably the reason why this book was a 4-star rather than a 5-star for me was Rachel Walling, who I feel fully deserves the title of superbitch. She's constantly antagonistic, confrontational, and judgmental, which I suppose I would find OK if she wasn't also incredibly manipulative and coldhearted. She accuses everyone else as behaving badly, yet sleeps with a witness--and mark you, her reasons aren't passion but revenge on her ex. The use of sexual wiles to manipulate and humiliate others is something I find vastly irritating and essentially unforgivable in a character, and Rachel's coldhearted manipulation is her main role in the whole book. ]The book involves serial rapists, paedophiles, and murderers. I find rape an incredibly troubling theme, which made parts of this book sickening and horrifying. In some ways, the story seeks to explore a paedophile's mentality, history, and struggle between guilt and desire. Rape, especially rape of a child, is one of the most horrifying crimes, and I really don't like reading about or analysing it. That analysis is unavoidable in this book.

Since the Poet went after and sodomized male victims, it also explored some really troubling issues involving rape and gender. Rape is a crime about defilement, control, and power. The fact that the killer went after men who were in power, who were in control, and forced them into submission, creates a very interesting dichotomy between these victims and the way Connelly portrays female or child rape victims. The female (and child) victims are portrayed as defenceless, and the rape is a defilement, a loss of innocence. In the case of these men, the rape is portrayed mainly in terms of humiliation and submission. I don't know how intentional this was, but the difference in the way Connelly characterized the crimes was startling.]

For me, the murder method was incredibly intriguing. For some of the murders, the murderer's program involved hypnosis. The murderer first utilized opiates and similar to increase susceptibility, then induced hypnosis to make the victims compliant. I initially was very sceptical of this. I had believed that the claims of hypnosis were outrageously exaggerated, and that the maximum possible was increased low-level suggestibility. However, after reading the book, I did a bit of research and discovered that (as I should expect by now) none of Connelly's claims were outrageous, and all had reasonable scientific backing. There is very little empirical evidence that people under hypnosis can be forced to do something they find reprehensible (heh, try getting an IRB approved for that study), but given current research, it does not seem unlikely that someone could be compelled to submission and inactivity against their will. It is a little hard to believe that by choosing a random victim, you would be able to get hypnosis, especially since the subjects would be unwilling. About 20% of the population is highly susceptible, and about 60% can be hypnotized--way more than I would have believed possible, but still meaning it would be difficult to just hypnotize a random victim. However, by adding narcotics, the murderer could greatly increase susceptibility. The murderer also tended to target people who were emotionally vulnerable, and in fact the population most susceptible to hypnosis is individuals with PTSD. Given that Jack was present at his sister's death and clearly was permanently haunted by it, this might explain why he was so much more susceptible than Shawn. The codeine probably helped.] This murder method therefore stretched credulity, but was not beyond the bounds of belief. After doing the research, my beliefs in the powers of hypnosis--and my fascination and phobia of it-- were greatly increased.

The book's theme is Connelly's standard Nietzcheian observation: how hunting the monster can cause one to fall into the abyss and become one. However, it has a new twist, as it also explores how hunting the monsters can destroy hope and lead to despair. Jack's voice contains more optimism and less brutality than Haller's or Bosch's, but also lacks Bosch's resolve. Jack's motives are tainted by his desire for the story rather than simple justice. I thought this book was especially interesting because I had a real sense that Jack is the closest echo of Connelly, the character closest to speaking with his own voice. It makes certain small elements more vivid and thought-provoking; for example, the cop who dies in Chicago turns out to be African-American, yet because none of the stories mentioned this, Jack had assumed he was white. The story segues slightly there into a brief analysis of race and our assumptions, and I had the sense that this fear and guilt was very close to the author's heart. It all adds up to an interesting and troubling read.