Michael Connelly,
The Scarecrow
(Little, Brown & Co., 2009)

In Scarecrow, Michael Connelly recycles two key characters from his previous books, reporter Jack McEvoy and FBI agent Rachel Walling. Jack is being ousted from the LA Times and picks his last two weeks to profile a black kid charged with murdering a white woman. When Jack reads the kid's confession, he sees the kid only confessed to stealing the woman's car (she was dead in the trunk).

So, who really did kill her? His investigation uncovers a murder with the exact same m.o. in Nevada. He notifies old friend and lover Walling, and the two are off and running on the trail of a serial killer. Their probing activates a cyber tripwire and now the killer knows they are coming.

Thus begins the latest standalone (Harry Bosch is not in it) from Connelly, who I consider the best crime-fiction writer working today. (Laura Lippman's a close second, with Lawrence Block in third. All three do their best work in standalones.)

But he does a bit of jumping that old shark here.

First of all, this is not a "who" novel, but a "how" novel, basically a police procedural. The evil one is identified fairly early, and then it's a cat and mouse game. This is what John Sanford does all the time, and I think it makes him a lesser writer.

The ending is a race against the clock in an underground bunker with horns blaring, canisters spewing deadly gas, a secret escape hatch, etc. Bond. James Bond.

Connelly has learned a lot about internal FBI stuff, including jargon, which he shares with the reader, over and over. He's learned a lot about computer server systems, which he also shares over and over. One thing he nails, though, is an inside look at the slow death of the newspaper business. Of course, we have the Web, but Connelly makes it clear that the Internet is inferior in a watchdog role. I am a newspaperman who has already dodged the downsizing bullet.

review by
Dave Sturm

15 August 2009

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