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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

All About the Narrows 

Part of me feels like I'm breaking some sort of embargo but considering that Publishers Weekly and George Easter at Deadly Pleasures have already gone public with their views (well, Easter's review won't show up in the magazine for a while, but his sentiments are public knowledge now) I figure I might as well chime in.

My copy was waiting for me when I arrived home, bleary-eyed, yesterday afternoon. I ripped open the package to find the book and the most elaborate publicity kit--by far--I have ever come across. As I've said before here, Little, Brown is pulling out all the stops in trying to get this baby to #1 on the New York Times list. So reviewers and booksellers get the following goodies: A spiffy DVD called Blue Neon Night about Michael Connelly's Los Angeles; scads of information including a very lengthy bio, Connelly's tour schedule, and a detailed description of just what kind of promotional efforts are being made on behalf of the book, from a TODAY Show appearance to basically flooding every bookstore in the country (and beyond) with copies--500,000 first printing, after all. To coincide with the release of THE NARROWS is the paperback reissue of Connelly's very first standalone, THE POET--complete with an afterword by the author and an intro by Stephen King, which was kind of over-the-top in its praise for the book but then again, what would you expect, damning with faint praise? Not exactly.

The most curious press kit inclusion was the October 2003 article on Connelly in GQ magazine, which was a bit of a hatchet job as the interviewer tried oh so hard to make Connelly diss fellow authors, and then got mad because the author is, well, rather nice and affable (and therefore "boring.") I mean, if you're trying hard, as a publisher, to sell your author to the behind-the-scenes masses, this is the article you include? Weird. Though it is GQ, and ergo, high-profile.

And then there's the book.

I read fast, and since Ottawa decided not to come out and play last night, I turned the TV off and started reading. A couple of hours later, I was done--basically in one sitting. In brief? It's very good. But there's a reason I'm blogging about it and not trying to flog a review somewhere, because it's going to be very, very hard to review this book without giving away the plot. Or as someone who also got an advance copy put it, this book is Spoiler City. What Connelly has done here is to affect the way readers may view earlier books, while advancing Harry Bosch's character and his life decisions--he makes a fairly major one by the end of the book that puts him in a different direction that he'd been on in the last couple of books. I also spent an inordinate amount of time chuckling at the various "easter eggs" that Connelly had inserted into the book--never mind that a choice section of THE NARROWS takes place at a real bookstore in Orange County, which was rather amusing. And at times, the book feels rather surreal, as real-life events mingle with fictional ones, and characters comment about their portrayal in a movie made about them (and yes, you can probably guess which movie I'm talking about.)

Put it this way: THE NARROWS is a sequel to THE POET for a reason. And you might want to reread (or read) Connelly's second standalone, BLOOD WORK, as well. And then, just go along with every plot development in THE NARROWS, no matter how much it might upset you for what it messes with.

If I had one problem with the book, it's with the tone. THE NARROWS is perhaps the fastest-paced Bosch novel, almost a pure suspense tale. Kind of like its prequel, except that when Bosch is the star, I'm used to a more procedural feel, or as with the case in the previous book, LOST LIGHT, a P.I. tale. Though I bought the suspense just fine, I'm kind of hoping that for Bosch's next appearance, he's back to solving cases in a slower, more methodical fashion, like he used to do in books past. But I suspect that if it proves to be the case, that won't happen for the next book--I hope for Connelly's sake that he's writing something completely different just so Bosch can deal with the ramifications of what happened in THE NARROWS.

Ultimately, I really admire the fact that Connelly can tinker with canon, if you will. Kill off a major character? Not a problem. Bring together most of his starring characters from previous books in one place? Not a problem, especially since he did that before in 2001's A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT. Fans harp on series books being able to "stand alone" and no doubt--if they haven't read at least those two books I mentioned--will get rather pissed off about the direction THE NARROWS takes, but why be limited to conventional wisdom? It takes a lot of risk to do what Connelly does here, and I like that. A lot, actually.

Now, wasn't that a vague review? Luckily, I think most folks reading here will probably get the book on publication date (or thereabouts) and see what happens for themselves.

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