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The Velvet Coffin: Michael Connelly’s The Scarecrow

by Brendan McCall: Crime Corner

(Little, Brown, 423 pages hardcover, $27.99)

The Dutch painter Hieronymous Bosch used color on vast triptychs to articulate his fantastical visions of morality, in works such as The Garden of Earthly Delights.  For the past 17 years, crime writer Michael Connelly has been portrayed contemporary Los Angeles as a similarly fantastical landscape populated by violence and corruption.  Using words, he paints in the reader’s imagination, and his canvases are often variations of darkness.  Connelly’s eloquence arises out of a kind of poetic worship of the absence of light, intimating that darkness itself has a kind of substance, or presence, or territory of mind.

The titles themselves of some of these books—Lost Light, A Darkness More Than Night—hint at the themes that permeate much of these novels, guided by Connelly’s brooding paladin, detective Harry Bosch.  Far from perfect, Bosch is a flawed diamond.  We admire his valor yet simultaneously pity his shortcomings.  We are grateful that he is trudges through the darkness with his feeble lantern of determined justice, because we do not have the same courage as he does.  A lover of jazz, Bosch’s music is like the discordant squeal of a saxophone: piercing, passionate, and when prolonged, painful to the ear.

Besides Bosch, there are other heroes stumbling amidst the chaos within the city of dark angels.  Drawing upon his years as a journalist in Florida and California, Connelly has written novels from the point of view of view of FBI criminal profiler, (Blood Work, 1998), an attorney (The Lincoln Lawyer, 2005), and journalist. (The Poet, 1996).  Further, at times these separate worlds and characters intersect, as in The Brass Verdict (2008) The Narrows (2004), and others.  Connelly knows this beat, and his vision is ambitious, broad.  Like Hemingway and others before him, Connelly’s years as a journalist have served him well for fiction.  His writing is lean and muscular, no fat.

In his 20th novel in 17 years, The Scarecrow, Connelly returns to one of his favorite characters, journalist Jack McEvoy.  We were first introduced to this character in The Poet (1996), when he was writing about a serial killer; and later in the diabolical The Narrows (2004).

I won’t ruin this exceptionally suspenseful tale by giving any spoilers.  What I do want to note is how Connelly frequently weaves contemporary events into the art of his writing.  In The Scarecrow, that focus is on the decline of readership of the newspaper industry, and how this affects journalism.  The opening pages feature McEvoy getting canned by the Los Angeles Times, and he has 2 weeks left on the beat.  The old guard is being shipped out, and while he is training the ‘new guard,’ McEvoy also attempts to go out with a bang, to break one more major story.

Many passages within The Scarecrow read like a kind of Ballad of the newspaper industry, from the noble myths to the raffish charm of its slang.  Such details could only arise from the direct experience who has been in these trenches for years, working against deadline.  And far from being part of the mise en scene, the demise of the newspaper industry as well as the parallel rise of the digital, the virtual, and all things Internet prove to be vital components of the novel’s suspense.

In April 2007, Connelly wrote passionately in the Los Angeles Times about the folly of downsizing book reviews.  He noted that it was the book reviews for his first novel, Black Echo, that helped propel his career in 1992, and he speculates on what would happen to him if he were attempting to break into writing today with the decline of newspapers and their readership. 

The Scarecrow is not only an exceptional thriller, but a thoughtful, reflective novel about our changing relationship to reading—reading information, the news, literature.  Typically, Connelly operates on a number of richly textured levels, while simultaneously maintaining unnerving suspense and well-drawn characters. 

And as if that is not enough, he has a new Harry Bosch thriller coming out later this year!  Buy The Scarecrow now, before the next panel of this dark triptych comes out this autumn.

imageMichael Connelly is the author of 17 novels, including the bestselling Harry Bosch series of novels.  He has won every major award in the field of crime fiction, including the Edgar Award, the Anthony Award, and many others.  Connelly also served as the President of the Mystery Writers Association from 2003-04.  He lives in Florida with his family.



imageBorn in California, McCall is an actor, director, and choreographer whose work has been presented internationally.  He has taught at institutions such as the Yale School of Drama, New School for Drama, New York University, the Atlantic Acting School, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, among others.  He lived in New York City for 18 years before moving to Oslo in 2008, where he is the Director of The International Theater Academy Norway (TITAN), a 2-year professional theater education program combining innovative artistic craft with practical entrepreneurship.  For more information, see http://www.titanteaterskole.no.

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