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a darkness more than night

16 may 2013

Reading Michael Connelly's novels in an order dictated solely by when I find them for 99¢ in the thrift store makes for a lot of pleasant surprises. In A Darkness More Than Night, an assortment of Connelly's stock characters mix and match in the course of a twisty mystery plot and some lugubrious reflections on human nature.

Terry McCaleb, the heart-transplant serial-killer-profiler from Blood Work, is retired to his fishing boat (don't they always) when a call from a homicide detective brings him back "into the life." What's up with the drifter who's been hideously strangled, with a bucket crammed over his head and a garish plastic owl set up to watch? Sounds like something out of Hieronymous Bosch – hey wait, isn't that a Michael Connelly character?

Harry Bosch is, in fact, involved in the case of his life: he's the star witness against an impossibly amoral Hollywood director who also enjoys strangling people, except that his preferred victims are the starlets that he's dating. The two murder mysteries, McCaleb's and Bosch's, keep intersecting in ways that are sometimes predictable and sometimes not; it's a thickly detailed and handsomely-written novel. And there's even a counterpoint in the narrative technique: the director's crime is shown not just in retrospect (like most murder investigations in fiction), but the investigation itself is narrated in retrospect, via the trial testimony. This is subtler than it looks, and helps maintain the reader's interest in two very different, if ultimately convergent, stories.

Jack McEvoy from The Poet is also on hand, and I daresay Mickey Haller would be too, had he existed yet in Connelly's L.A. Many of Connelly's concerns with truth, justice, and coming down hard on the guilty weave through A Darkness More Than Night, as well. In particular, two important scenes show prosecutors offering criminals a choice between the death penalty and life without parole. The death penalty is so terrible that this becomes an effective plea-bargaining device. But I wonder if real criminals, when faced with such a choice (which must be extraordinarily rare), would care that much. They're depraved anyway, past caring about their victims or society, and the ones in A Darkness More Than Night must know that they probably have a significant chance of getting a death sentence reduced to life (and significantly better appeals representation if sentenced to death). It's a small, and as I said, not very realistic detail. But as such, it shows Connelly's stance on the efficacy of capital punishment as deterrent and level of persuasion.

Connelly, Michael. A Darkness More Than Night. Boston: Little, Brown, 2001.