Where Chandler found the personification of his hero ideal in Philip Marlowe, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, deeply principled and often philosophical private investigator, Michael Connelly has given us Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, the relentless, tortured, highly principled but deeply pessimistic police detective who entered the literary stage in The Black Echo and has journeyed through fourteen more novels since. Detective Bosch shares his name, of course, with the Dutch Renaissance painter who slathered his canvases with ghastly visions of Hell, and one can certainly draw parallels between the hideous, fallen world of the paintings and the cauldron of sin and injustice that Harry Bosch confronts in modern day Los Angeles.
When Chandler sent his knight errant down Los Angeles' mean streets alone, "neither tarnished nor afraid," its mean streets were not, with all due respect to the master, nearly as mean as they are now. Harry Bosch, if rarely afraid, is certainly tarnished. He is the personification, in fact, of Nietzsche's admonition that those who fight monsters risk becoming monsters themselves. If there is a unifying tension that threads its way through all of the Bosch books, it is that—Bosch is always perilously close to succumbing to violence he not only fights but which inhabits him.
From that first book, The Black Echo, it's clear that Harry Bosch is a damaged soul. You worry about his physical health from dangers both within (he smokes so many cigarettes you can't help but assume a heart attack or at least an angioplasty awaits him at novel's end) and without (a group of ex-military killers and drug smugglers; a possible femme fatale). But more so, you worry about his psychological well-being. This first case will be the one that triggers memories of his service in Vietnam, and Connelly does a masterful job of evoking the claustrophobia and isolationism of a former "tunnel rat." At the end, we leave Bosch staring at a print of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, that epitome of broken dreams and alienation. Bosch, not surprisingly, identifies with the "darkness. The stark loneliness. The man sitting alone, his face turned to the shadows. I am that man, Harry Bosch would think each time he looked."
These are the musings of a psychic orphan with attenuated emotional development. But it's merely warm-up for what will be revealed about Bosch's psyche in books to come. Because in the annals of American crime fiction series protagonists, it's hard to imagine one who had a more traumatic history than Harry Bosch.
We soon learn that Harry Bosch entered McClaren Hall, an orphanage, at the age of eleven. He didn't know his father and was removed from the home he shared with his mother, a prostitute, deemed UM ("unfit mother") by the State of California. His mother, Marjorie Lowe, would later be murdered and the solving of that case would be the subject of Connelly's fourth novel, The Last Coyote.
This article originally appeared in the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on April 30, 2009. Courtesy of Il Corriere della Sera, RCS Quotidiani Spa.
Nine Dragons will be released in the UK and Ireland on October 1, 2009, in the USA and Canada on October 13, 2009, and in Australia and New Zealand on October 21, 2009. The audiobook, Kindle, eBook, and large-print editions of Nine Dragons will be released simultaneously with the hardcover.