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I picked this book up by mistake. I'd recently read the excellent Bad Men by John Connelly and picked this up thinking it was by the same author (look, they both shared the same surname, OK?!) When I realised my error, I wasn't too down-hearted because the plot synopsis on the back cover suggested that it was the type of murder-thriller that I enjoy reading... I guess that means I got it wrong twice.
When his cop brother apparently commits suicide, newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy refuses to believe it and uncovers evidence that suggests he was murdered. Moreover, he uncovers other, similar cases which suggest a serial killer is picking off homicide detectives who fit certain specific criteria. Needless to say Jack starts to investigate, only to find that by doing so, he draws the killer's attention onto himself.
The book doesn't have much originality and simply rehashes plotlines that have been done before and have been done better: a serial killer who has successfully hidden his activities from the police, but who yearns recognition and leaves little clues to taunt them; a group of FBI agents hunting him down, whilst allowing an outsider to tag along on the investigation; and a personal obsession with a killer that leads to serious consequences when the hunter becomes the hunted. YAWN. I could probably go to my bookshelves and pick off at least a dozen books which explore similar issues, but which are more interesting.
There's a serious issue with the plot's credibility. Would the FBI really allow a reporter unfettered access to all the facts of a story, just because he threatened to release details that could potentially tip off the killer? Surely they'd be more likely to threaten him with prison? The idea of a reporter tracking down a killer and starting a cat-and-mouse game with him is also rather far-fetched. It's not that I've got anything against the basic idea; it's more that Connelly never convinces me that these events are feasible within the context of the book.
The Poet also feels somewhat dated. In fairness, it was written back in 1996, so that is inevitable. However, it feels like it is a product of its time more than many other books that were written during the same period. For example, Connelly clearly likes his books to feature up to the minute technology and talks with glee about databases that can search entire news archives, or the ability to dial into his office network and email by plugging his computer into a telephone point. Woooo! In these days of wireless, 3G access to data anywhere, anytime, this makes the book look prehistoric!
In fairness, it would be wrong to criticise the book for feeling dated purely on technological grounds. However, the plot also feels rather hackneyed - even if you place it in the context of when it was written. Silence of the Lambs, for example (which The Poet is desperately trying to ape) was written in the 1980s and still feels fresh and reads well today. You could compare the two books to cheese: Silence of the Lambs is still a delicious piece of Brie - something that gets better as it gets older. The Poet has been lurking at the back of the fridge and is covered in unpleasant green fur and very, very smelly.
There is the germ of a good idea, and there were times when I was intrigued. The trouble was such moments were relatively few and far between. In a book containing 480 pages of fairly small text, I would estimate that it grabbed my attention for less than 100 pages - and even then, that was only in isolated chunks here.
As it is, the book feels very padded out. It takes an eternity to find anything out or for the investigation to move on in any meaningful sense. OK, I appreciate that this is the reality of a proper police investigation; that progress is made in almost infinitesimally small increments and often relies on a large slice of luck. But here's the thing: I read to get away from the tedium of real life, not to have even more of it thrust upon me. The Poet is simply too slow moving and never really engaged my attention.
It could still possibly have salvaged something if it had come up with a decent ending, but it simply manages one which is at the same time predictable and preposterous. Maybe I've just read too many of this kind of book, so I can spot the twist coming a mile off, but this one never had me fooled. Even so, the ending is so ludicrously far-fetched that it almost makes you cry out "WHAT???!" in exasperation.
Something else I struggled to get on with was the lead character who just came across as deeply unlikeable and unsympathetic. Most of us, if we lost a sibling to suicide (particularly a twin) would get on with comforting grieving spouses or parents. That probably goes double if we subsequently found at that they were murdered. Not Jack McEvoy. All he's interested in is getting the exclusive on the story and making sure he gets all the glory. The only time he interacts with grieving relatives is to try and get information from them, or make them do something he wants.
McEvoy is also incredibly boring. The book is told from the first person perspective and he simply comes across as a self-aggrandising whiner who thinks that the world owes him big time. Partly because he is such a moaner and partly because of his incredibly selfish attitudes, I just couldn't warm to him at all. Indeed, I actually found myself warming to the killer more because at least he was actually INTERESTING. Given that he is a convicted paedophile and multiple murderer, this is slightly disturbing. The Poet is not meant to be one of those books where you secretly admire the killer, but that's what it ends up being.
Prior to reading this, I'd never read a Michael Connelly book and, to be honest, there's nothing in here that would tempt me to ever read another one. I'm sure there will be fans out there who tell me that this is not one of his better books and that I should try a different one but to be honest, I think I'll give it a miss.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
The Poet is the 5th novel from crime author Michael Connelly and the first as a stand alone novel, and not featuring Connelly's character Harry Bosch. This novel is written in the first person in contrast to his other novels, written in the third person.
Jack McEvoy is a crime reporter. Following the death of his brother, he investigates a string of police suicides, seeing that there is something afoot. McEvoy begins to unravel a serial killer at work, and the FBI get wind of it. Agents Robert Backus and Rachel Walling scent the serial killer whom they dub the Poet, and thus a chase ensues, with the FBI forced to work with Jack as opposed to against him for fear of him printing everything he knows. They follow a series of suicide notes across the country, and feel themselves getting closer and closer to the Poet.
This is without a shadow of a doubt Connelly's finest work, and that includes all of his novels to date. It is an outstanding crime novel which injects a particular emotion into the reader that makes it that more intense - fear! Connelly puts th reader in the position of those chasing the Poet, and the dangerous scenes are written so well that I actually felt a part of them, felt that they were real.
Connelly's writing style is very easy to read anyway - long flowing descriptions are mixed with clever dialogue, and the Poet epitomises this, with the near 500 page novel flowing through like it was 200. A brilliant novel.
Brilliant novel, his best.
I rate this book at 5 stars out of 5.
The book is available from amazon.co.uk for £4.19.
This review may also be posted on ciao.co.uk.
Thanks for reading.
Michael Connelly attended the University of Florida and majored in journalism with a minor in creative writing. He was a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, which is one of the largest papers in the country.
The Poet was published in 1996. Michael Connelly has published 14 novels. His first novel The Black Echo (1992) featured the LAPD Detective Hieronymus Bosch. He was to feature as an ongoing character through out his novels. There are novels in which Bosch doesnt appear. The first being The Poet. Blood Work, Void Moon and Chasing The Dime are the other three.
I read this book many years ago but I misplaced the book somewhere. It was the first Michael Connelly book I read and I enjoyed it so much I have almost read them all now. The copy I have in front of me now was a bargain at £2.99 from Tesco. It is a special edition, which includes an extract from The Narrows, which is the sequel to The Poet, which is also a Harry Bosch novel. It was available in hardback from May 10th this year. This edition also includes an introduction by Stephen King.
As Stephen King mentions the first line in this book is Death is my beat. We are catapulted into the thoughts of Jack McEvoy. I thought he was a police detective at first but he is in fact the twin brother of Sean who is in fact a detective. As it happens Sean has committed suicide and two detectives are taking Jack with them to break the news to Seans wife, Riley. They dont give him much information as Jack is a reporter and they dont want to be reading what they say in the paper the next morning.
Sean had been investigating a particularly horrific murder. Theresa Lofton was found in two pieces. There were no suspects and no leads. The detectives were absolutely sure that he had killed himself. It looked as though this murder had gotten to him. However, Jack and Riley didnt believe that he would have killed himself.
So inevitably Jack starts to investigate the death of his twin brother. His boss is fine with it. Although he never suggested it but Jack realises that he didnt need to ask. As the murder reporter for the newspaper Jack has his pick on what he writes about. He also has useful contacts within the police department that he has had from being a reporter for 10 years.
We find out that the lake where Sean killed himself was the lake where their sister, Sarah died. She drowned twenty years ago. We also learn that it would have been impossible for someone to kill him and then run into the woods from the time the shot was fired and the witness could see the car. So now convinced it is a suicide he investigates police suicides.
We then see how a man, Gladden has been watching and taking photographs of children. We see that he is eventually arrested and questioned but he outsmarts the police as he wiped the photographs so they have nothing on him.
Whilst investigating police suicide Jack comes across a detective named Brooks who was thought to have killed himself. However, his partner was convinced he was murdered. After reading all the information it becomes clear that there is a link somehow. Brooks suicide note was from a Edgar Allan Poe poem and the man Sean was supposedly meeting was Rusher (Usher). After looking into it he discovers that Seans suicide note was also a line from a Poe poem.
Jack gets closer to finder out about other cases where it appears a police detective was murdered but it was made to look like suicide. All the detectives were investigating a murder at the time of there death. Was the person murdering the detectives also the person who murdered the victims they were investigating? Were they bait? Or is it possible that there are two killers? Its not long before the FBI are made aware of what Jack is unravelling and they step in. jack is not happy with this and tells them that unless he can help them with the investigation then he will print what he knows. They dont want him to do this, as they are afraid that The Poet as they have dubbed him now will go under and they wont be able to catch him. Begrudgingly Jack works on the inside with the FBI.
That is all I can tell you without giving any more of the plot away. What I can tell you that there are several twists and when you think you know who the killer is there is a twist.
Connelly is clever in that he creates another twist after that. They are all believable. In my opinion Connelly is one of the best crime writers that I have read. His novels are gripping and never predictable. The Poet is one of my favourites. It was the first Connelly I read and after that I was hooked. The chapters are short and he is very easy to read.
All in all highly recommended. If you havent read a Michael Connelly and you are interested in crime fiction then I suggest you read one as soon as you can!
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Published by Orion 1996, 481 pages
"Chilling Connelly puts his foot on the gas and doesn't let up."
LOS ANGELES TIMES
"On the fright level, "The Poet" ranks with Thomas Harris' 'The Silence of the Lambs'."
THE FORT LAUDERDALE NEWS AND SUN SENTINEL