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Monday, November 21, 2016

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Little, Brown & Co., 400 pages, $29

Again, here’s a toast with a cuppa my best tea to the meticulous way Michael Connelly tells a story — actually, two stories this time. His appeal ranges wide because of his straight-ahead style, lack of pretension, solid plotting, insight into our society’s ills and culture, and crime reportage disguised as fiction.

Banged up but not bowed, ex-L.A. hotshot police detective Harry Bosch continues the good fight as a reserve detective with the tiny San Fernando police department. There’s no pay but there are excellent opportunities still to right some wrongs. While it is not a universal sentiment, Harry is ostracized by a good many of his former L.A. brethren because of his lawsuit against the police department. San Fernando, however, is happy to have him, and he is pleased to join them. He has “police DNA” and retirement does not suit him.

“The Wrong Side of Goodbye” is Harry’s twenty-first adventure. Harry first appeared almost twenty-five years ago. And he has felt every year of his service since then. As “The Wrong Side” begins, Harry is an old-timer who feels the aches and pains of age. But his caginess and years of experience balance out any physical diminishment. Harry’s experience in Vietnam has often been mentioned in the series, and it comes into play once again in a vivid and poignant way.

One of the conditions of his part-time (unpaid) employment by the SFPD (an acronym Harry uses at one point to get information, hoping the person will mistake it for the San Francisco PD) is that he be allowed to carry on a business as a private investigator. As long as he doesn’t use SFPD resources for his private matters, the chief says. Connelly makes a point of bringing this up at the beginning of the story, so we can watch how Harry honors it only in the breach.

A former colleague, but not an especially esteemed one, throws Harry a case. The colleague is now in the high-end security business, and one of his high-end clients has a mysterious task for which he needs a discreet straight-shooter. Shortly thereafter, Harry is surprised to find himself in the presence of Whitney Vance, a multi-billionaire, à la Howard Hughes. Vance is old and frail, and he wants Harry to find out if he has an heir from a liaison that ended abruptly in his youth. Harry has to agree not to discuss this matter with anyone. ANYONE!

Tracing Vance’s young inamorata, Vibiana Duarte, Harry is led to a young medic who served in Vietnam, thus triggering Harry’s memories of a time that still haunts him. The most moving passages in the book come at the halfway point, when Harry realizes that he and the medic might have been on the same ship during a never-to-be-forgotten Christmas experience.

As Harry begins an investigation into Vance’s early life, matters at the SFPD are heating up. Harry has found a correlation among several rape cases, leading to a manhunt for “The Screen Cutter.” Once again, his methodical search for common denominators and his cop's Spidey-sense has led to potential breakthroughs. Although Harry is only a reserve officer, his chief has required more and more of the veteran cop's time to find the criminal.

As with all of Connelly’s books, it is hard to put this one down. He crosses his t’s and dots his i’s as he provides his readers with a close-up look at how Harry progresses through his cases. Harry’s sober pursuit of justice can be dark and a heavy weight to bear, so it is uplifting to find that Harry’s half-brother, Mickey “Lincoln Lawyer” Haller, eventually joins him in the missing heir case. Mickey is a shark and conman, with a law degree and excellent defensive skills in the courtroom. He also is written with a lighter touch and more humor. (I secretly now prefer the Haller books to Bosch’s for that reason. I guess not such a secret now.)

“The Wrong Side of Goodbye” is satisfying, thrilling, mesmerizing, and sometimes heart-wrenching.

P.S. Bygone television actress Connie Stevens is my new heroine.

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