If Michael Connelly’s latest bestseller “The Night Fire” (Little Brown, $31) falls short, it’s only in this:
He can no longer surprise us with how well the pairing of now-retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective Harry Bosch with Detective Renee Ballard from the department’s overnight “late show” works. That’s because he already did that with last year’s “Dark Sacred Night.”
This time, he also brings in Bosch’s half-brother, slick defense attorney Mickey Haller, introduced in “The Lincoln Lawyer.”
Ballard and Bosch’s bond develops as they work together to solve two cases — one a cold case handed to Bosch after the funeral of his first police mentor, Detective John Jack Thompson, nearly 20 years retired.
Bosch: “John Jack mentored me. He taught me the rule, you know?”
Ballard: “What rule?”
Bosch: “To take every case personally.”
And not only that:
“John Jack had taught Bosch how to read the tells of a liar in an interrogation room. John Jack always knew when somebody was lying. He once told Bosch it took a liar to know a liar but never explained how he had come by that piece of wisdom.”
Now, the question is: Why did John Jack take home the murder book 20 years ago on the death of a seeming nobody named John Hilton, ensuring that no other detectives would work the case while doing nothing to solve it himself?
The other case looks like the accidental death of a homeless man who knocked over a heater in his sleep and burned to death, but it isn’t what it seems.
On top of those, Bosch, who’s at first just as reluctant about getting involved as Ballard was on the cold case, agrees to look at whether, despite what looks like rock-solid DNA evidence, Haller’s client might not have killed a judge.
It’s no surprise that Bosch and Ballard find justice where others didn’t try. But Connelly never lets his readers take for granted that they will.
In Ballard and Bosch and Haller, too, he has created heroic and flawed and very real characters who believably find ways to make things right.
And he doesn’t let them get stale. They grow and age — even if that means, as he makes clear here, they can’t go on forever.