Monday, July 2, 2007

The Overlook & The Watchman

Michael Connelly, The Overlook (Harry Bosch)
Robert Crais, The Watchman (Joe Pike & Elvis Cole)

WARNING: Thar be spoilers.

Connelly and Crais are two authors writing in the detective genre that I always read and I finished both books last weekend. There are interesting connections between the Bosch and Cole books. Connelly and Crais have referred to each other's characters in their books, though without mentioning names. In previous a book, Crais has Cole leaving the court house and passing Bosch standing outside smoking. From the description it has to be Harry Bosch. Connelly has Cole living in the same neighborhood as Bosch and Bosch waving to the private detective who lives up the hill as he drives by. Not a significant part of the stories but fun Easter eggs for readers of both authors.

In these books we learn that Joe Pike and Harry Bosch both carry Kimber semiautomatics. The last Bosch story was titled Echo Park. Echo Park is one of the settings in The Watchman. I like to think these guys are having fun with each other.

The Overlook was originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine and, according to the dust jacket, it has been expanded and revised. It is still thinner than other books in the series and, in my opinion, not as tightly written. Still, any Bosch is better than no Bosch so I'm not really complaining.

Connelly is doing a good job showing Bosch aging. He needs reading glasses and has to use magnifying glass at times. He isn't up on electronics and only manages the basic functions on his cell phone. His new partner is much younger and Harry isn't too proud to ask him to go through the victim's Blackberry. I like this aspect of Harry.

Basic plot: Harry is called out to a murder scene at the Overlook. It looks like an execution but then the FBI, in the person of Rachal Walling last seen in Echo Park, shows up. Harry and Rachael had a history that didn't end well in Echo Park. The victim, a doctor, was on a Homeland Security watch list because he had access to radioactive materials. Cesium in this case. Guess what, cesium is missing. The wife is found tied up in the house. The wife eventually comes up with a clue that makes everyone believe that this is a case of terrorists stealing radioactive materials.

Now we have the usual FBI vs Locals scenario - FBI doesn't want to tell the locals everything, the locals don't want to get cut out of the case. Has anyone written a book where the FBI and the local police get along and show mutual respect?

The car belonging to the wife of the victim is found in front of the house of someone patterned after Sami Al-Arian, the Florida professor who was accused of raising money for terrorists. Ski masks are found in the trashcans. A raid takes place and the suspect is killed. Harry doesn't believe the guy was involved. Too convenient.

The book rushes toward conclusion when an illegal alien is taken to the hospital with severe radiation burns. Harry and Rachael find the guys' truck with the cesium, the gun, and a yoga poster taken from the doctor's home that turns out to be one of the keys to the case. The Mexican was a dumpster diver and found the stuff in a near-by dumpster that is conveniently located in a straight line from the scene of the crime. Here I have a problem. The murder was not actually a terrorist plot but concocted by a member of the terrorist task force and the victims wife. Don't you think that an experienced FBI agent could do better that dumping ALL the evidence in a dumpster, the same dumpster? Including a paper poster that is a key piece of evidence that they took pains to remove? If it had been me, I would have burned or shredded the poster right away. And putting the cesium container in the dumpster as well! The chances of discovery in a dumpster, as anyone who watches Law & Order knows, is pretty good. I would have left the cesium and the gun in the car they planted in front of the terrorist suspect's house. Let him explain it.

Crais' The Watchman features Joe Pike who is backed up by Elvis Cole this time. A reversal of their usual roles. Pike is guarding a hotel heiress who shows up at the first meeting with a tiny dog in a purse. Gee, I wonder who she could be patterned after. Pike gets to shoot a lot of people and be silent and scary. What's with the sun glasses at night? Is anyone's vision that good? We also learn a bit more about his time on the police force and his work as a mercenary. Elvis helps out and delivers his usual wisecracks. The heiress grows up along the way and you get the idea she might turn out OK.

I wondered if it would be a good idea to reveal more about Pike, that his character might suffer if he is less mysterious. Crais pulls it off and I wasn't disappointed.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Crais, Parker, and Evanovich could collaborate on a book that brought Crais' Pike, Parker's Hawk, and Evanovich's Ranger together? It is one of those crossovers that I fantasize about, like Homicide: Life on the Street meets NYPD Blue. It would have been fun to have Sipowicz meet Pembleton.

If you are a loyal reader of Crais and Connelly, I recommend these books. If you are just starting out with these authors, read the earlier books then read these.

Author websites:
Michael Connelly
Robert Crais

On Amazon
The Overlook
The Watchman