The Narrows - Michael Connelly

"All they did was trade one monster for another.  Instead of a dragon they now have a snake. A giant snake that sleeps in the narrows and bides its time until the moment is right and it can open its jaws and swallow someone down."


~~Moved from GR: only 2 left...~~


The Narrows (Harry Bosch #10)

by Michael Connelly


It's hard to say exactly who the main protagonist of The Narrows actually is. The story intertwines three of the protagonists from Connelly's previous works: the inimitable, unstoppable Harry Bosch of some 10 previous books, the cold, analytical Rachel Walling of The Poet, and in the background, overshadowing all of the thoughts of the other two, is the insight and spirit of Terry McCaleb from Blood Work. Rachel Walling is called out of her FBI purgatory of the Dakotas because her ex-mentor/ex-boss and current serial killer dubbed "The Poet" is on the loose again and he's pulling the FBI's strings to force her into the case. Bosch, far away in LA, is called to investigate the suspicious death of Terry McCaleb. As he follows the clues that McCaleb left for him and as Rachel tries to piece together the hints left by her old mentor, their paths cross and they join forces to hunt down The Poet.

I've always felt that Bosch was much more suited for PI work than police work, so it's a pleasure to see him in this role. I like Bosch, even though I find significant flaws in his character, I really appreciate that Connelly also sees the same flaws. My main issue with Bosch is that although he recognizes these flaws in himself, he never, ever learns from his mistakes. His tendency for cowboy justice repeatedly endangers others and often gets them killed, yet he never resolves to work within the rules. One reason that I preferred him as a PI is that in the detective role, his tendency to bend the rules and flaunt authority seems more fitting.  At the same time, he is so incredibly perceptive; it's a strange combination.  There are some wonderful quotes in this book:

"I only know one thing in this world. One thing for sure. And that is that the truth does not set you free [...] The truth does not salvage you or make you whole again. It does not allow you to rise above the burden of lies and secrets and wounds to the heart. The truths I have learned hold me down like chains in a dark room, an underworld of ghosts and victims that slither around me like snakes.  It is a place where the truth is not something to look at or behold. It is the place where evil waits."

PI work also seems to have loosened him up; we get some incredibly entertaining moments when he thumbs his nose at authority, like drawing a smiley face in the dust on the top of his car so it can be seen by the FBI helicopter above. One of the touching complexities this story adds to Bosch's character is his struggles to be a good father to his newly found daughter. Of course, since this is a Bosch story, we get a "girl of the week,"[1] and I'll leave you to guess who that is. Of course, in this story, Bosch isn't the only protagonist; his first-person narration is interspersed with third-person narration from Rachel Walling's perspective. I don't like Rachel; somehow she seems cold and impersonal to me. I also don't understand her; after screwing up by sleeping with a person tangentially related to the case in her last story; guess what her next logical step in this book is?[2] Like Bosch, she has become cynical about authority and the trappings of authority, but her emotions are complexified by her desire to regain her previous role.

As in The Poet, we also get narrative snippets from the perspective of the killer. They say it's good not to get too close to your heroes, and I guess the same thing is true of your villains.

When I read The Poet I found the killer to be the absolute most terrifying character that Connelly created--except, perhaps, Bosch himself, but that's a another story for another time. The Poet was a person who reveled in control. He manipulated every situation he was in and controlled every action of his opponents effortlessly. The ultimate symbol of this was his use of hypnotism to force people at a much deeper level than simple physical force to do his will. He humiliated his victims and asserted his own supremacy in his every action: the rape, they hypnotism, the notes they were forced to write, everything. The Poet is a killer who kills for power, control, and a sense of status, and he's scary because he is so very good at manipulating people.

The Poet in this story...just isn't. Rather than using the manipulation and psychological control that made him so terrifying in his first story, he's much more of a thug. A clever thug, yes, but still a thug who asserts power via brutality, threats, and violence. To me at least, that is far less scary than a man who can suborn the body's will from his unwilling victims. We've seen him defeated before. To me, his return simply feels anticlimactic, like a performer taking another bow after an unenthused call for an encore. I thought it was interesting he didn't go after Jack and that he felt no need for revenge upon him. I'm guessing that the real reason is that Connelly felt that Jack got too close to home and didn't want to write about him anymore, but one can also make a case psychologically; in The Poet, he has Jack completely under his control and power. The humiliation, the assertion of superiority, has already been performed. The only thing that saves Jack is Rachel, and maybe that's what's so haunting about The Poet: the killer won, made his point, "got" Jack even if he didn't finish the job.

Overall, I think this is another solid entry from Connelly and I very much enjoyed the interweaving of the protagonists from so many other stories. In general, though, the story felt light to me; it didn't seem to touch on some of the powerful themes that some of Connelly's works such as The Concrete Blonde and Angel's Flight so eloquently struggled with, or the deep personal emotions that its narrator brought to The Poet. It also lacked the element of mystery, since the killer's identity is, for the most part, known from the outset. For all that, it is an enjoyable read. I adored the sequences of Bosch with his daughter, and this book provides some reconciliation between Bosch and the indomitable Kiz Rider, a favorite character of mine. Above all, it was fun to see Rachel and Bosch interact and lock horns.


[1] Which, although different in each book, is treated in the narration as The One. Ugh.


To sleep with Bosch. WTF.

(show spoiler)