Wednesday 7 July 2010

Book review : Nine Dragons - Michael Connelly

As soon as you see the strapline on the front cover - "Harry Bosch is back. And this time it's personal." - you know that you're jumping into the middle of a series of novels. Having not read any of the previous books, I was unsure if this would be detrimental to my enjoyment in reading Nine Dragons, but it wasn't. The book works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

Harry Bosch is a hard-nosed, impulsive but efficient and tenacious cop who has been battered by the storms of life, as the existence of his ex-wife and teenage daughter in Hong Kong prove. He is a multi-layered, highly developed and interesting lead character, presumably even more so if you have read the previous installments in the series, but somehow he kept reminding me of other life-weary cops in other detective novels. I even had to go and look online at one point to doublecheck that I hadn't read one of the other HarryBosch books because he seemed so familiar. I hadn't, so I suppose that make him a bit of a cliché.

The story starts off with a bored Harry, champing at the bit, desperate for a new homicide case to come in to give him something to do. This is presumably to show how empty his life is and how he has to focus on his job because other aspects of his life are sadly lacking. When a call comes in to investigate the shooting of a Chinese liquor-store owner, it looks like it will be a pretty easy case to solve. However, the involvement of the Triads, longstanding Chinese gangs that have made their way across to downtown LA with the Chinese immigrants and that make up an important part of Chinese heritage, complicates matters, especially when Harry receives a message, telling him to back off the case or else, followed by a video revealing that his daughter has been kidnapped and is being held hostage.

Harry does what every parent would do and flies straight off to Hong Kong to rescue her. The descriptions of Hong Kong are very atmospheric and evocative and give you a real sense of armchair travelling, discovering the exotic locations and seedier side of the tourist havens. The pace is unrelenting as Harry goes all guns to track down his daughter. My one criticism would be that certain characters - notably Harry's ex-wife and her new partner, but also, elsewhere in the novel, the family of the gunned-down shopkeeper - are paperthin and caricatural. It's hard to feel anything for them because they are such flimsy characters, and this detracts slightly from the emotional charge of the scenes involving them. I can only assume that, with regard to the ex-wife and the new boyfriend, their characters are more deeply examined in some of the earlier episodes.

The whole central part of the novel involving the kidnapping and the hunt for the daughter are adrenalin-fuelled and had my eyes glued to the page. However, once Harry wraps up that part of the case and returns to LA, things start to drag and all the emotional excitement of the family drama is lost. Tying up the loose ends is an essential but ultimately tedious part of policework, like filling in the long boring paperwork at the end of the case. I was nowhere near working out who the real criminals were but ultimately did not really care. My interest had waned at the conclusion of the kidnap drama.

The central plot, focusing on the abduction and Harry's desperate determination to rescue his daughter, had me enthralled and would have scored 5/5. The Triads/shooting storyline that acts as a framework around this high-octane plotline needed to be more closely interwoven with the central drama for my interest to be maintained and for that reason, the novel as a whole only scores 4/5. It's still a great read though, although I'm sure many readers will be tempted to skip the final part !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £18.99

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Orion (1 Oct 2009)
ISBN-10: 0752875876
ISBN-13: 978-0752875873

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