Hard times at L.A. Times set stage for crime thriller
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Nobody follows the ageless advice -- "write what you know" -- more doggedly than Michael Connelly.
He's a retired Los Angeles Times police reporter whose protagonist is a Los Angeles Times police reporter, headed for an early retirement in this crime-story installment.
The bulk of the author's work, stretching back to 1992, features police detective Harry Bosch -- and there will be a new Bosch installment this fall -- but for a change of pace, he brings back reporter Jack McEvoy.
What's curious about "The Scarecrow," though, is not what Connelly knows from experience, but what he researched for this book, the ins and outs of computer hacking.
Jumping into the current decline of the daily newspaper, Connelly spends some time lamenting the shrinkage of the L.A. Times under owners more interested in bottom lines than headlines.
Little, Brown ($27.99)
Every now and then, he slips into mawkish nostalgia for the reporter's life -- the old hangouts, the hard-earned reputations, even the quaint thought that people became reporters because "deep down, every journalist wants to be a novelist. ... Every writer wants to be considered an artist. ..."
In my case, I knew a lot of reporters who didn't even want to be called writers because it was too pretentious.
As the story opens, our star reporter is given the boot in an economic move, but when his replacement, an attractive rookie, is murdered, her body stuffed under his bed, he puts his reportorial skills on display.
That's barely the half of it. Connelly's other protagonist is the Scarecrow, nicknamed for his computer skills in scaring off hackers. It also makes him adept at hacking into systems, which he does to line up victims for his serial killing sprees, including the cub reporter.
Connelly shifts from the first-person voice of McEvoy to the third-person views of his villain at work, but transitions and flow are clunky and awkward.
The suspense is created when McEvoy and his girlfriend, FBI agent Rachel Walling, try to solve the string of his murders as the Scarecrow watches their every move from his computer. The couple was paired in the 1996 "The Poet," another serial-killer saga.
"The Scarecrow" reads much like a seasoned reporter's articles on cyber-spying rather than a slam-bam, crime-filled thriller. Caught up in telling readers about dirty digital deeds, Connelly fumbles the story's pacing and rushes to wrap up the case before the pages run out.
It seems likely that McEvoy and Walling will surface again in Connelly's future, but without a newspaper to tell their stories.
First Published June 21, 2009 12:00 am