The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


Bosch Is Back, and Ballard's with Him

Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly
Orion Books
 444 Pages
Dark Sacred Night

Harry Bosch is running out of time … and Michael Connelly knows it.


No, that’s not the tagline of the latest novel from best-selling author Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night, which is now out in paperback from Orion Books. Instead, it’s a natural and predictable consequence of a decision Connelly made a quarter of a century ago, when he introduced Bosch in The Black Echo, namely, to have the character age in real time from book to book. As a result, the same detective who was rapidly approaching middle age in The Black Echo is now rapidly approaching mandatory social security age. Dark Sacred Night is Connelly’s very successful attempt to address this aging process by introducing Bosch to a newer, much younger detective who may wind up carrying his torch someday.


That younger detective is Renee Ballard, first introduced a year ago in a standalone novel, The Late Show. Ballard works the midnight shift at the Hollywood Division, a tour dubbed “the late show,” which has become a dumping ground for detectives on the outs with the powers that be for various reasons. In Ballard’s case, it’s a matter of filing a pre-#MeToo claim against a supervisor who tried to assault her, only to have the claim buried and to wind up transferred to the late show. She has a lot in common with Bosch: they both have a keen desire to see justice done and are quite observant about the little details in cases. Ballard’s passion for justice leads her to spend a lot of her abundant free time (late show detectives typically hand their cases off to the day shift) investigating what she calls “hobby” cases, the oddball cold cases no one else wants to work.


As a practical matter, Bosch is also looking into hobby cases. He’s now retired from the LAPD, serving as a consultant to the tiny San Fernando police department and assisting them with cold cases. One of these unsolved cases, the decade-old execution killing of an unlamented gangbanger known as “Uncle Murda,” occupies some of his time in Dark Sacred Night. That investigation still allows him to chase down leads in a case that’s personal, the murder of a teenage runaway prostitute named Daisy Clayton nine years ago. The victim’s mother, a rehabilitating junkie, is currently staying with Bosch as she tries to stay sober, and Bosch wants to help the woman find closure regarding the death of her daughter.


Bosch’s search for leads in the Clayton murder takes him to the Hollywood Division offices, where Ballard finds the older detective rummaging through closed sex crime files. Although she’s naturally suspicious of Bosch at first, she eventually gets drawn into the case as well and spends several nights going through old records and chasing down possible witnesses with him. Of course, the readers of Dark Sacred Night are well ahead of the detectives in figuring out an unofficial partnership is blooming.


Michael Connelly’s strength has always been the detailed descriptions of police procedure that he provides which add an air of authenticity to his books without bogging them down with too many details. Here, Ballard and Bosch have to go through boxes of hand-written comment cards compiled by the detectives on every single shift around the time of the Clayton murder, hoping to find the elusive lead that points them in the direction of the killer. Of course, most of the leads they pursue wind up being dead ends, but Connelly’s gift for detail makes even the most mundane interrogation come alive. Eventually, Ballard does crack the case, not through some Sherlock Holmesian bit of deduction, but, instead, by recognizing the significance of a couple of seemingly minor details and following up on them.


Readers of Dark Sacred Night are treated to considerably more than an investigation into two sensational cold cases, however. They also get to ride along with Ballard on her shifts as she gets called to the scene of more mundane but entertaining cases, such as an attempted break-in at a strip club that turns out to be the doing of some overly curious teenagers. By watching Ballard, who is still a fairly new Connelly character, in action, readers gain an appreciation for her police skills, including her ability to always keep her eye on the big picture… how to make an arrest that will stick. Along the way, Connelly provides readers with a practical treatise on the rules of searches and evidence, as Ballard knows just what to do and say that will hold up in court.


Other than her keen detective skills, however, Renee Ballard is still pretty much a work in progress, and I think that Connelly would have been better served to give her a second solo book before teaming her with Bosch. The most essential factor in her background is the sexual assault allegation she lodged, and the fallout from that incident still hasn’t been fully resolved. Michael Connelly always tries to tie his books into current events, but there’s a lot of potential here that’s as yet untapped. Further, most of the rest of the personal details Connelly reveals about Ballard seem more like bullet point quirks (she sleeps in a tent on the beach with her rescue dog) than traits of a fully-developed character.


Fortunately, any shortcomings in the author’s portrayal of Ballard are more than made up for in his look at the far more familiar character of Harry Bosch. This is clearly an older Bosch in Dark Sacred Night, a man who has been beaten up physically by years as a detective and battered emotionally as well. Further, he may be slipping on the job as well. He makes a couple of decisions that turn out poorly and jeopardize one of his cases. As a result, he thinks that he may be at the end of the line as far as serving as a cop in any capacity is concerned. This may well be the most vulnerable that Bosch has ever been.


Readers who have watched Bosch age over the years may be upset by some of the turns of events in Dark Sacred Night, but I found the book an interesting examination of how aging can affect a person. In Bosch’s case, Connelly doesn’t provide all the answers; there’s still plenty of room to explore his current state of mind and body in a future book. And the comparison and contrast with Ballard make for fascinating reading. Both have a complex moral code, in which a certain bending of the rules is justified to bring down some really bad guys (and the killers in this book definitely qualify in that regard). But just how much bending—or breaking—either of them is willing to do is still an open question at the end of Dark Sacred Night. I get the feeling that these unresolved issues may come into play the next time the two pair up.


Although Dark Sacred Night isn’t the best Harry Bosch book, it’s still far better than most of the rest of the police novels out there, with a strange, compelling mystery at its center. But more than just writing another very good mystery, Michael Connelly has pulled off a nifty feat here. He isn’t content to let a near-septuagenarian detective fade into the woodwork or go out in a blaze of glory. Instead, Connelly has set the stage for a burgeoning partnership between two sharp investigators that may lead to an eventual passing of the baton. Fans may dread the end of Harry Bosch’s career, but Michael Connelly could be giving them a very worthy successor.


My sincere thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers and publisher Orion Books for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and providing me with a copy of the book.

Check out our review of another Harry Bosch book by Michael Connelly:


Michael Connelly decided to become a writer after discovering the books of Raymond Chandler while attending the University of Florida. Once he decided on this direction he chose a major in journalism and a minor in creative writing — a curriculum in which one of his teachers was novelist Harry Crews. After graduating in 1980, Connelly worked at newspapers in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, primarily specializing in the crime beat. In 1986, he and two other reporters wrote a magazine story on a major airline crash and the survivors that was later short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. The magazine story also landed Connelly a job as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Connelly is the bestselling author of thirty-two novels and one work of non-fiction. With over seventy-four million copies of his books sold worldwide and translated into forty foreign languages, he is one of the most successful writers working today. His very first novel, The Black Echo, won the prestigious Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1992. In 2002, Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie adaptation of Connelly’s 1998 novel, Blood Work. In March 2011, the movie adaptation of his #1 bestselling novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, hit theaters worldwide starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller. Connelly is also the executive producer of Bosch, an Amazon Studios original drama series based on his bestselling character Harry Bosch, starring Titus Welliver. His most recent #1 New York Times bestsellers include Dark Sacred Night, Two Kinds Of TruthThe Late Show, The Wrong Side Of GoodbyeThe CrossingThe Burning RoomThe Gods of Guilt, and The Black Box. Connelly’s crime fiction career was honored with the Diamond Dagger from the CWA in 2018.


Follow him on Twitter @Connellybooks / Facebook: @michaelconnellybooks / Instagram: @michaelconnellybooks / website: / Amazon author page: