My favorite mystery writer of all-time is Kenneth Millar, better known by his pen name “Ross Macdonald.” Macdonald’s Lew Archer series would get my vote for best detective series written in the United States. The mysteries are dense and multilayered but it’s not just that. Millar had a great way of getting into his character’s psyches and making them three dimensional. There are always stakes in an Archer book and the stakes feel real to the reader.
Archer is less of a character in those books and more of a Virgil, guiding the readers into the hell the characters have made. We don’t know much about him and that never changes through the series.
This is the opposite of Michael Connelly’s most popular creation, Detective Hieronymous Bosch. We know all about Bosch’s life, his time in the war, the way cases affect him, etc. But even considering that, Connelly claims that this novel is a tribute to Macdonald, one of the big influences on his work. And you can see why: Bosch as PI instead of LAPD detective, the delve through a rich family with a mysterious past, the title itself which could have easily been an Archer title.
It was this inspiration that drove me to read The Wrong Side of Goodbye, a book from an author I often like but want to like more. Michael Connelly is a good procedural writer and he writes procedurals in a way that do not leave me bored with mundane details or cop cliches. But as I’ve said in the past, my issue with Connelly is how so many (too many!) of his plots revolve around abused/brutally murdered women and/or children. I get that this happens in real life but it’s not something I need to read on a consistently regular basis. Even Connelly’s idol Macdonald didn’t got to that specific well often. And it’s a tired trope in mystery lit, one that contributes to the general sense of misogyny in this country, whether intentional or otherwise.
This book breaks down into two parts, one great, the other not. The A plot: Connelly doing PI work for a rich man trying to find long lost scions, is fantastic and a tribute worthy of Macdonald. It kept me gripped in suspense until its resolution. The B plot, Bosch moonlighting as a volunteer San Fernando PD detective trying to track a serial rapist…ugh. I didn’t know that would be the case going in and was disappointed when I found out.
And the sad thing is, plot A doesn’t need plot B at all. It’s a good enough story to stand on its own. I enjoyed it and was gripped until near the very end (it resolves itself too tidy). Connelly’s books are longer than the typical bestselling mystery writer. Whereas the former will clock in between 280-350, Connelly regularly pushes 400 and beyond. Which is cool, I don’t mind length. And I wasn’t eye-rolling over the length of this one. But ditch the B plot, clean up the end, and you’ve got a banger.
Nevertheless, this is a good cop tale and I’ll have to keep being selective with which Connelly books I read because I do like his work.