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Michael Connelly's thrillers are mainly dedicated towards the sullen and gruff detective Harry Bosch. Occasionally though, he'll focus on lawyer Mickey Haller or as in this case, journalist Jack McEvoy. Jack's finest hour came in The Poet, where his investigative style of journalism uncovered a serial killer the likes of which had never been seen before (as literary licence often gives us). Fast forward to now, and Jack is back investigating a different type of serial killer, and this time the realities of the pressures of a print newspaper operating in a digital world come back to haunt him.
Jack's at the end of his career, so it seems. Not old enough for retirement, his paper is laying him off, but before he goes, he has two weeks to train his younger, digitally aware replacement. Keen to go out on a 30 (code for the ultimate sign off piece), he enlists her help and they investigate a white killing in a black neighbourhood where the police seem to have jumped to conclusions. Little does he know, though, that this killing links to others, and when he starts digging, all around him are going to be put in danger by the killer, an online genius known as the Scarecrow.
Connelly's style usually involves some twists that give you a sucker punch, but here there's a subtle and effective difference. As with Columbo, we know who the killer really is from the start. Connelly takes us to a company that provides online security for various companies. Built underground and run by one of the best online minds the world has seen, Carver is its technical head even if he's the highest up in the company. We get to see a digital world, technical elements explained clearly to us by an author who clearly understands the pressures a the digital age puts on printed journalism, having originated from crime journalism himself.
The vast majority of the tale is told through Jack, and he is eventually reunited with FBI Agent Rachel Walling, who was key to the capture of the Poet all those years ago. This book would serve well for those wishing a return to these characters, although it has been long enough in between books to have significantly forgotten a lot of the characterisation that Connelly would have done with them previously. This is of little import though, as the author's skill in this area has grown considerably with each book, the odd individual failing aside. While I prefer Bosch, there's no denying the appeal of the much lighter hearted and endearing McEvoy. It's like he's a release for Connelly's cheekier, backchatty side. As a result, the pace of the book is very quick. Events don't get much of a chance to get deep seeded, and the descriptive elements are limited to increasing our knowledge of the digital element of the book in order to be able to follow this as it's referred to by the author.
The pace does mean that in a couple of books' time I'll have forgotten a large amount of the detail contained within it, but this is fine. It's about the time of reading, for me, and as I was reading this I was entertained. I was keen to grab it at every opportunity, and after struggling through the last book I read, this was a welcome change and shows that an author can ensure that the flow of words on a page can make up for detail that your imagination has to substitute. Another thoroughly entertaining thriller from Connelly. Recommended.
I've read and reviewed a few Connelly novels now and would consider myself a fan. I was really looking forward to reading this, despite it not featuring Connelly's much-loved protagonist Harry Bosch. It differed to his usual style but I still enjoyed it from start to finish.
The cover reads : 'His last assignment could be a killer', and there's also some praise from the Daily Mirror : 'The greatest living American crime writer...once again Connelly is utterly gripping'. In addition, we're told that this is by the Bestselling author of the Poet, all things which draw you in to want to read it, regardless of whether you've read any of his previous work.
The Scarecrow introduces us to Jack McEvoy (who is also featured in other novels), a crime beat reporter recently cut loose from his job. McEvoy is intent on leaving with a hit story to his name in the hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize. Although a potentially hit story comes his way, his new shadow, Angela, is keen to replace him the second he leaves and Jack is up against the odds to get the scoop.
In parallel to this we learn about the story of interest. A 16-year old drug dealer from a rough area is convicted of murder. The body was left in such a way that resembled another killing as its not long before Jack's instincts for crime reporting lead him on a hunt as if he were a real cop. Believing the two cases aren't a mere coincidence, and that the dealer isn't responsible, the book follows Jack as he starts to investigate.
He enlists the help of Rachel, an FBI agent whom he shares a history with. The web of characters, motivations and events grows and intertwines as the plot thickens, making this an intelligent read but without being overly complex. Without giving too much away, they trace internet activity to a data storage location, where they believe the 'real' killer may have dipped into the 'securely held' files to snare his victims. Whilst you could guess some of the plot from the details as you read, there are nonetheless twists and turns along the way to keep you thinking and interested.
The story is told from two angles and switches at several intersections throughout the book between 'The Farm' (from the angle of the killer) and Jack's perspective. I thought at first that this would make keeping up with the plot a bit confusing, but it was the opposite; we get a feel for all characters involved and Connelly explicitly keeps us up to date on who's who and what's what so we don't get left behind. It was an interesting and different way of laying out the story and it worked in his favour.
I always find Connelly's writing absorbing and this novel is no different. I missed Bosch and the usual faces, but McEvoy shone through in the lead and by the end of it I felt quite close to the characters, I was able to empathise somewhat and get into the atmosphere that Connelly tried to create. It was dark and gritty, cleverly written and addictive to read, offering something a little different to his usual style that, whilst perhaps not as good as some of his previous work, was still worth reading.
550 Pages over 20 chapters.