Re­nee Bal­lard re­turns in Con­nelly’s ‘Sa­cred Night’

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Charles Finch

Ad­vice for the nov­el­ist: Ap­par­ently if you want to re­ally buckle down and fo­cus on your ca­reer, the best move is to start pro­duc­ing a hit TV show as a side gig.

At least, that ap­pears to be the course taken by the su­per­hu­man Michael Con­nelly, whose su­perb re­cent pair of crime nov­els, “Two Kinds of Truth” and “The Late Show,” rise to the level of his best work from the ’90s while co­in­cid­ing with his su­per­vi­sion of the Ama­zon se­ries “Bosch,” based on his prickly LAPD hero Harry Bosch.

Con­nelly’s hall­mark has been his pre­cise, fault­less plot­ting, which is em­bed­ded in a fa­tal­is­tic vi­sion of noir Los An­ge­les. That has never changed, but for the past 13 years he has used it partly in the ser­vice of an en­ter­tain­ing but slight se­quence about Mickey Haller, aka “the Lin­coln Lawyer.”

Re­cently, how­ever, Con­nelly seems rein­vig­o­rated. “Two Kinds of Truth” found Bosch work­ing cold cases out of un­fa­mil­iar San Fer­nando, and “The Late Show” in­tro­duced a ter­rific new lead char­ac­ter, Re­nee Bal­lard, a promis­ing young cop work­ing nights be­cause the de­part­ment wouldn’t be­lieve her al­le­ga­tion of sex­ual as­sault against an­other officer.

Now, in “Dark Sa­cred Night” (Lit­tle, Brown, 448 pp., his 21st Bosch novel and se­cond Bal­lard, Con­nelly has paired the two leads. It’s a choice that might have come one book too soon.

“Dark Sa­cred Night” is about an­other cold case. Bosch is hunt­ing for clues about the long-for­got­ten dis­ap­pear­ance of a run­away named Daisy Clay­ton, his cu­rios­ity ig­nited by a painful ac­quain­tance with her mother. He sneaks into the po­lice de­part­ment dur­ing the small hours – the “late show,” as it’s called – and starts to rifle old files for in­for­ma­tion. The officer on the floor hap­pens to be Bal­lard.

What en­sues is, for Con­nelly, a fairly me­an­der­ing and un­cer­tain story of their ad hoc part­ner­ship.

In an in­ter­view, the author has said, “I didn’t think as I started out that Re­nee Bal­lard could ever mus­cle into the uni­verse that was al­ready oc­cu­pied by Harry Bosch … but the un­ex­pected hap­pened. Re­nee ended up be­ing too fierce, too in­ter­est­ing and too un­de­ni­able.”

True. “The Late Show” was fan­tas­tic, cer­tainly as a mys­tery but es­pe­cially for Re­nee, who sleeps in a tent on the beach with her dog and surfs be­fore work. She’s the com­plete op­po­site of the an­cient Bosch, that is, ex­cept with the same stub­born com­mit­ment to jus­tice that drives him.

The difficulty is that Bosch is a char­ac­ter so well-known to read­ers that Bal­lard teeters be­tween def­er­ence and in­de­pen­dence in “Dark Sa­cred Night,” a lit­tle at loose ends. You wish he’d given the char­ac­ter one more book of her own.

For­tu­nately, by the end of their col­lab­o­ra­tion, Con­nelly hits his stride. He has al­ways been es­pe­cially good when it comes to truly creepy killers – he was once a crime re­porter – and his de­noue­ment here is thrilling.

If Bosch and Bal­lard work to­gether again, a whole book with the same pace, sus­pense, and clever team­work could make for some­thing gen­uinely spe­cial. Maybe he just needs to write a se­cond hit TV se­ries first.

AMA­ZON

Ti­tus Wel­liver plays the ti­tle role in the Ama­zon se­ries “Bosch,” based on Michael Con­nelly’s books.

BEOWULF SHEE­HAN

Michael Con­nelly

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