Book Review: DARK SACRED NIGHT, pairing Ballard and Bosch gives renewed energy to the Harry Bosch Universe

Connelly, Michael - Dark Sacred Night (2)Dark Sacred Night
Michael Connelly

Detective Renée Ballard, consigned to the graveyard shift three years ago after accusing her supervisor of sexual assault, returned to her Hollywood division base from a call only to find a stranger rooting through the detectives’ filing cabinets. She was ready to confiscate his gun and perhaps arrest him when the Lieutenant came in and addressed him as “Bosch.” She learned the former detective was searching for information about a cold case from 2009. Curious, Ballard herself researched the case, Daisy Clayton’s murder, and it resonated with her. She asked Bosch if she could join him in his search for Daisy’s killer, and together, they worked the case while Ballard fulfilled her regular responsibilities on “the late show” and Bosch investigated a gang-related cold case in San Fernando.

Individually and as partners, their investigations propel Bosch and Ballard into dark places where they face threats both external and internal, pushing them against the rule and the spirit of the law. How far they will go for justice made the book interesting and suspenseful but I also wondered how realistic it was for these characters to push the limits so far. I found myself thinking at times, Would Bosch really do this? Still, because he seems to have hit a wall with what he can accomplish as a public servant, his unconventional partnership with Ballard, which they unofficially formalize at the end of the book, not only makes narrative sense but opens an exciting direction for the Harry Bosch Universe books.

I have faithfully read every Michael Connelly novel, and I have to admit that in recent incarnations, I’ve been less enamored with Bosch. In The Wrong Side of Goodbye and Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch was too bossy, too self-satisfied, and too pedantic. Dark Sacred Night, which is told through the alternative perspectives of Bosch and Ballard, restored my love for the series. Here, Bosch experienced self-reflection and self-doubt, questioning the impact of his behaviors no matter how well-intentioned they might have been. Seeing him from Ballard’s eyes, too, presented him in a softer, more compelling light, and I found him more likable than I have in ages. I’ve never liked the subplots with his daughter, Maddie, and I was delighted she played such a small role in this book. Ballard, too, is an interesting character who continues to develop and offers a useful perspective on being a female officer in the LAPD, though it’s still hard to envision her itinerant lifestyle being practical or even possible for a professional.

Connelly doesn’t sacrifice his law enforcement expertise with this seemingly new approach to Bosch. The novel has as many if not more procedural details than other books in the series, and while they are presented as authoritatively, they also seem less didactic. More than any other mystery series, I feel like the Harry Bosch Universe describes how the LAPD, and more generally other police departments, are run. Presenting some internal issues such as the use of force by the LAPD SWAT team through both Bosch’s and Ballard’s differing perspectives cues the reader to consider the morality and legitimacy of the team without offering a clear point of view. I was also touched by the inclusion of Officer Farmer who wrote poetic descriptions of individuals on field interview cards and later killed himself. These themes of sexual harassment, use of force, the appropriateness of “bending” the rules, and officer mental health elevate the book beyond a simple procedural.

Though I am worried about Bosch and Ballard and their relatively dark turns, I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Sacred Night, and I’m confident that both Michael Connelly fans and mystery-lovers in general will find it a compelling read. I am very excited about the Ballard and Bosch partnership and am looking for more books featuring them!

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