...I'm not sure how much I can be involved."
"You're dumping this case on me. You changed my radio station and dumped the case on me."
"No, I want to help and I will help. John Jack mentored me. He taught me the rule, you know?"
"To take every case personally."
"Take every case personally and you get angry. It builds a fire. It gives you the edge you need to go the distance every time out."
Ballard thought about that. She understood what he was saying but knew it was a dangerous way to live and work.
"He said 'every case'?" she asked.
"'Every case,'" Bosch said.
In The Night Fire Michael Connelly gives one more piece of evidence that yes, you can occasionally have too much of a good thing. We've got a little bit of a Mickey Haller case, something that Bosch works mostly on his own, something that Bosch and Ballard work together, a case that Ballard works mostly on her own, and then a hint of something else that Bosch primarily does solo. Plus there's something about Bosch's personal life and a dash of Maddie's life. Which is all a lot to ask out of 405 pages.
It's plenty to ask out of 650 pages, come to think of it. But anyway, let's take a look, shall we?
Haller was drafted to defend an indigent man accused of murdering a judge, and is doing okay in the trial, but not well enough with things coming to an end. Bosch watched a little bit of the trial, waiting to talk to his half-brother and something strikes him wrong. So he takes a look at the files and gives Haller to think about. But it's clear to Bosch that the LAPD isn't going to act on anything they turn up, they've got their man. So if anyone's going to expose the judge's killer, it's going to be Bosch. While it's to be expected that the detectives that arrested Haller's client would resent Bosch's involvement with the defense—but Ballard is antagonistic toward the idea as well. Just because these two respect each other and can work with each other, they're not clones, they don't agree on a lot.
Ballard's called to the scene of a homeless camp, where someone had burned to death in a tent fire. She's just there as a precaution, in case the LAFD decides it's arson (and therefore homicide) instead of an accident. Having been brushed off—and afraid that the LAFD will do the same to the case—she takes a little time to turn up enough evidence to justify treating the case as a homicide. Then she was promptly removed from the case, so her old team at RHD could work it. Naturally, like every character Connelly has ever created, Ballard walks away, right? Yeah, I can't type that with a straight face—she cuts a corner or two and works the case herself, making better progress than anyone else does, too. This brings her into contact with her old antagonist, now-Captain Olivas. He's close to retirement, and it'll be interesting to see what happens to her career after that.
But what gets the majority of the attention of the novel is the case that the Ballard and Bosch work together—Harry's mentor (and father figure) has died and left him a murder book from 1990 that he'd, um, "borrowed" when he retired. John Jack wasn't assigned to the case in 1990, it's unclear that he did anything in 2000 when he took the file home. Bosch has no idea why he had it, but convinces Ballard to read it over and look into the case. They start working it, bringing them into contact with retired and not-retired gang members, digging up the past, and the question about why John Jack had taken the file.
Watching Connelly balance these mysteries/storylines is a treat—he does a great job of moving forward with each of them while bouncing back and forth between. I do think each case could've used 10-20% time than he gave them. But I could be wrong. They all wrap up satisfactorily, and There's not a lot of time given for anything that isn't case related, but we get a little bit. Both the personal material for Bosch (which is what he was waiting in court to talk to Haller about) and what we learn about Maddie make me really wonder what's around their corners—and it appears we won't learn anything in 2020 (unless we get a bit of an update in the Haller novel next year). Ballard's material is always about her work primarily, but we do learn a little more about her life between her father's death and her time with LAPD. I'm glad that Connelly hasn't given us her whole biography, but man...what we have been given just makes me want more. Clearly, he's making sure that fans of all three characters are going to have to come back for more as soon as he produces it.
I appreciated the discussion Bosch and Ballard had about some actions at the end of Dark Sacred Night, I have a friend who will rant at the drop of a hat about Ballard's choices there (and I trust my email/text messages will get another one when he reads this post). I don't think this conversation will satisfy him, but it's good to see the pair acknowledge mistakes they made. While I don't think either of them do anything quite as misguided in this book, but they both make a couple of reckless moves. Bosch's always had a little bit of dirt on/leverage with superiors (even some history) to give him some coverage when he gets reckless. Ballard doesn't. So when she goes maverick, it's more nerve-wracking than it is when Bosch did/does it. A nice little bit of character work, and a good distinction between the two characters.
There's a moment in every Michael Connelly novel, no matter how good it is, where something just clicks and suddenly I'm more invested in it than I am in almost any other book. I think I've talked about it before, but when That Moment hits—there's nothing better. I get that with a lot of Thrillers/Mysteries (and even some books in other genres), but never as consistently as I do with Connelly. I knew that moment had hit when my phone told me it was time to put the book down and go into my office and I audibly groaned. How was I supposed to focus on anything else when Bosch and Ballard were on the hunt?
Lastly, and this is very likely going to be only a problem I had. Several right-hand pages in my copy that have very faint—practically missing—letters. It's like it'd been left in the sun too long, or like when an inkjet printer is running out of ink. Please tell me that Little, Brown has better equipment than I do.
This isn't the best Connelly can do, but man...it's so good. Solidly put together, we get to spend time with all our favorites and it hits every button it's supposed to. Connelly is one of the best around—The Night Fire shows why.