Monday, August 16, 2010

Review of The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (Orion, 2009)

Jack McEvoy is a seasoned reporter with the LA Times covering the crime beat.  The newspaper is in financial trouble and is laying off 100 employees.  Jack’s chips are cashed at number 99 and he’s been given two weeks grace to train his replacement, the ambitious rookie, Angela Cook.  Jack is a pro, and if he’s going, he’s going on a high and the inside track on the life of 16 year old Alonzo Winslow, confessor to rape and murder, seems like the perfect front page story.  Only once Jack starts to probe, he comes to the conclusion that Alonzo is innocent.  Which means that someone else raped and killed the woman found in the car Alonzo had stolen.  McEvoy turns to his former partner, and FBI profiler, Rachel Walling for advice, and Cook, eager to muscle in on Jack’s swansong story, discovers a murder with an almost identical modus operandi in Las Vegas, one in which the ex-husband has been convicted.  Unwittingly, through her internet search, Cook has triggered an alarm and unbeknownst to them, the two journalists turn from hunters to hunted.  On a journey into the desert outside of Vegas, Jack has his first encounter with The Scarecrow, and is saved by Walling.  So begins a cat and mouse game with a killer who seems to know their every move.

Connelly is a crime writing heavyweight and thankfully, unlike some mega-sales writers, his books are generally consistently well written, plotted and entertaining.  His writing is deceptively easy on the eye, honed through years of working as a crime journalist, and he draws extensively on his knowledge of the newspaper business, law enforcement and the legal system to provide, for the most part, a confident degree of realism.  His dialogue is credible and his characters are well drawn.  Where The Scarecrow has a weakness is with respect to the plot.  It is all going fine up until the point where Rachel Walling is introduced, a plot device to hook McEvoy back up with his old partner.  Connelly has a penchant for taking the lead characters from his many books and intersecting their lives, with mixed results.  From here on in, the story becomes a little lame and formulaic with McEvoy and Walling throwing commensense and rationality out the window and The Scarecrow turns into a pretty ordinary serial killer who is caught without too much trouble, albeit through a sequence of events that provides some tension.  Over the years, Connelly has set himself a very high tide mark in quality reading.  The Scarecrow is an entertaining read, but it is certainly not his best work and might disappoint some fans.

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. I'm a Connelly fan, although I hadn't read this one. I think when someone is quite talented, as Connelly is, that sets the bar, so to speak, very high. I'm not sure I'll go rushing out to read this one, but I will probably do so at some point...

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Rob,

This is consistent with other reviews I have read. I am in the middle of "Every Dead Thing" which is very impressive for a debut novel, and my first JC novel. His style is easy to read, but I think he could do just a little less of the simile / metaphor thing.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Oops, wrong Connolly, sorry about that