Thursday, January 13, 2011

Echo Park by Michael Connelly (2006)

An inauspicious opening sentence from a “New York Times bestselling author”:

“It was the car they had been looking for.”

For me, that one falls flat. It’s from the prologue. By chapter four, I decided that Connelly’s standards slipped while writing this one, his editor’s standards slipped, or conventions have changed since this book was published in 2006. He uses the “was -ing” construction too often for my taste, in places where I feel it weakens the impact of the sentences. He describes how the protagonist, Harry Bosch, is obsessed with a murder he couldn’t solve for thirteen years, painting a picture of why and how the obsession continues. Then he drops, “He would not give up.”

Really? You didn’t make that clear enough after saying that Bosch kept requesting the murder file, and re-interviewing persons of interest several times?

Now here’s one I like. Bosch has just called his old partner and indicated that the two of them may have missed a clue years ago that might have not only caught a woman’s murderer, but if he’d been caught, other women might not have been killed. How does Bosch’s partner respond?

“The background sound of television went quiet and he then spoke in the weak voice of a child asking what his punishment will be.”

In context, it has a good impact. Connelly seems to have an inconsistent ability to be compelling.

Having finished the book now, I have to say the author’s word choices don’t strike me as unique or gripping. Yes, *telling* can have a place, and sometimes a writer may actually want a passive phrase. But for most of the book?

On the positive side, he establishes a solid foundation for conflict between the cop Bosch and the criminal Waits. Early on, I assumed Waits was in fact the murderer Bosch has been looking for over thirteen years, but finding if that’s true isn’t the whole issue. It’s *how* we find out. Waits is described as a real loony, somebody who chops up at least some of his victims. Bosch is shown to be pretty practical, and loyal to his badge. Interaction between the two must have some psychological adventure aspect. By the end, Bosch is shown to have at least one major character flaw, which helps make him realistic.

And there are plot twists I didn’t see coming, which fit with groundwork laid previously. Connelly’s plotting is fine, it’s his wordsmithing I’m not fond of. Still, I’d like to read one or two more recent novels of his and see what’s changed, if anything.

First I’m going to tackle “Building Better Plots” by Robert Kernen, which I started several months ago. He’s got exercises in each chapter that look like they might help my plot dam—or damn plot ;)


  1. It's funny. I often notice that if you look into the 2/3/4 th novels of many authors, it seems like they tend to fall more into the 'was' mode, almost like it's okay to not edit as much, or try as hard. It bugs me to no end I have to say.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. Hey Angela. Cool that you agree with me. And I don't mean to say that "was" should disappear completely, but there is such a thing as too much.

    I got "Echo Park" from the library. If I'd paid for it, I think I'd be steamed :)