Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly (Orion, 2009)

An elderly Chinese immigrant is gunned down in his liquor store in Downtown LA. Detective Harry Bosch believes it’s a triad hit and zeros in on his quarry. Whilst he’s trying to piece together enough evidence to make the case stick, however, he receives disturbing news from Hong Kong, a triad powerhouse. Having to drop everything, Bosch heads for the Chinese city, determined to resolve what has just become a very personal case.

I’m a Michael Connelly fan. I own a copy of just about all of his books. They are generally superior fare amongst the bestseller lists, but Nine Dragons, I felt, was one of his weaker offerings. The story felt rushed, with prose that was workmanlike and flat. And the plot was weak, feeling like two shorter stories jammed together. The part of the book set in Hong Kong, in particular, seemed to lack life, depth and credibility. There was a particular event that happens that is described as if it had barely any emotional resonance or trauma to Bosch and other characters, and it continues as a notable absence throughout the rest of the book. And from the minute Bosch arrives back from Hong Kong, very little of the plot seems credible. The result is a police procedural/psychological thriller with the psychology bit mostly missing; a Harry Bosch story where Bosch seems like a very pale version of himself. I was a bit disappointed with the last Connelly I read, The Scarecrow, and Nine Dragons makes two in a row that have been below his usual very high standards. In both cases, my sense is the books were rushed. When on top of his game, it’s difficult to beat a good Connelly book, but for me at least, Nine Dragons is well down his greatest hits list.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review Rob. Maybe my review was not that negative but I can understand what you say. There are better Connolly books for sure. I have not read The Scarecrow but I do expect much more from The Fifth Witness, although I'll be waiting for the paperback edition.

Anonymous said...

I mean Connelly not Connolly, sorry.

Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this thoughtful review. I do see your points. I'd have to say, though, that I liked the book better than you did. It may not be the best Connelly's every written, but I liked it.

seana graham said...

Rob, I have to say I disagree. When I read it, I was struck by how relentless the pace was, which might be a problem for someone who had never read a Harry Bosch book before, but wasn't for someone who has read many. We don't need that much characterization and explanation in this one. It's all about adrenalin and speed, and that part is well motivated. And he did manage to get across the whole Triad culture, in spite of this. I also liked the way he went so far out of the L.A. sphere, and yet still managed to bring it all home. I will say that I found the ending a little abrupt.

kathy d. said...

I think we expect the Harry Bosch books to be more thoughtful, more cerebral, with more character development, so one cares about the characters. And to often include musings on social issues.

9 Dragons was a different kind of Harry Bosch book, a fast-paced thriller, with action and more action -- and a lot of shoot-em-up violence with a shocking loss.

I thought it was OK, but not what I associate with Harry Bosch.

The Fifth Witness is a well-done legal thriller, with lots of humor; it is a relaxing weekend read when one wants to tune out and be distracted and entertained.

Rob Kitchin said...

Seana, it's difficult to explain without giving spoilers but the very large coincidence in the book (which is very large), the fact there is a major death which is treated like it didn't really happen (the death is almost griefless even after the fact by both family members), and the idea that 9 public deaths including a US citizen would be swept/or allowed to be swept under the carpet by a foreign government (there would be fallout and a lot of press questions), really underwhelmed me in comparison to other Bosch books. I appreciate it was perhaps meant as a thrill ride, but I had too many nagging doubts. As I said to someone else recently 2.5 stars is 5/10 which is not a completely terrible rating. He's well capable of 8s, 9s and 10s, as per most of his back catalogue.

seana graham said...

I think I know the coincidence, and yes, I can see how the required suspension of disbelief would be offputting, although it wasn't for me in this case. I didn't really think anyone had even started dealing with grief by the end of the book. I will defer to you on the government aspect, especially since at this distance, I don't remember how those details were explained in the book.

And of course you either like a book or you don't. But I was really struck when I read it by Connelly's skill at keeping the book moving at a relentless pace. As Kathy says, it wasn't Bosch at his most cerebral, but it also wasn't a morphing of his character into something I was unfamiliar with.

kathy d. said...

Rob's point about the almost lack of grieving about the very large loss, which was shocking to those who've read this series, seemed very out-of-character.

The old Harry would have ruminated, mulled, grieved and thought about this loss for quite awhile, going into future books.

And he would have thought about constantly what that loss meant to his life and lifestyle, considering the major change it brought. And he would have considered that continually, not just made it into a fact which required including in future books, without introspection.