Published in 1992, this is the book that introduced L.A.P.D. homicide detective, Harry Bosch. The series, which runs twenty-four books thus far, has remained strong throughout and is, almost certainly, the gold standard of modern police procedurals.
When we first meet Harry, he's already forty-two years old and has been the product of one institution after another for virtually his entire life. His father left the family when Harry was very young and Harry never really knew him. Harry's mother turned to prostitution and was murdered when Harry was eleven. After her death, he was assigned to California's version of child protective services. He spent the rest of his youth in a series of foster homes, then joined the army and served in Vietnam. Upon leaving the service, he joined the L.A.P.D., eventually becoming something of a star in the Homicide Division.
The fact that Bosh was a Vietnam vet and already forty-two in his initial outing would ultimately put his creator, Michael Connelly, in something of a box. By the time the series was to the current halfway point, Harry was already in his middle fifties and staring at retirement, a situation which limited the author's options. Still, Connelly has addressed the problem in innovative ways, although one wonders whether, if he had it to do all over again, he might have dealt with the situation in a different fashion.
Given that he's forty-two, with a long career already behind him, Bosch appears in these pages as a character that's already almost fully formed. He's a rare animal in the L.A.P.D. in that he genuinely cares about the job and about achieving justice for the victims of the crimes he investigates. Later in the series, he will articulate his motto, which is that "Everybody counts or nobody counts." But it's clear that he's already driven by this principle when we first meet him.
For Harry, it's often a pretty lonely road in a department that basically seems to be filled with self-serving cops and bureaucrats who are much less interested in serving justice than they are in achieving their own ends. For example, Harry's partner has a side career in real estate and makes it very clear that the real estate job is much more important to him than being a cop. All he wants to do is put in his twenty years, collect his pension, and go into real estate full time. And if one of his current jobs gets in the way of the other, more likely it will be the police work that suffers.
If anything, the people in the chain of command above Harry are even worse. They're much more interested in advancing their own careers and protecting the image of the department than they are in the department's mission to serve and protect. And this means that Bosch is going to be in trouble almost all the time, in this book and throughout his career. Everybody admits that Harry is a brilliant detective, but he's not a team player and his actions occasionally embarrass the department. Accordingly, the Powers That Be would just as soon force Harry off the job and he's constantly battling against his superiors and against detectives from the Internal Affairs Division who will go to almost any lengths to dig up dirt against him.
Not that Harry is all that congenial himself. For whatever reason, perhaps because of his background, he doesn't relate very well to other people and it seems at times as though he goes out of his way to offend people, even when they're trying to get along with him.
A prime example is his smoking. By 1992, the health hazards of smoking and of second-hand smoke were pretty well established and already, lots of offices, restaurants and other such places were supposed to be smoke-free. Harry could care less and assumes that the rules simply don't apply to him. He's constantly lighting up in places where smoking is prohibited and in the presence of people who specifically ask him not to smoke. Even in the company of a woman he's allegedly trying to impress, Bosch still insists on smoking, even though it clearly annoys her. In fact, he becomes something of an asshole on this issue. It's hardly the way to win friends and influence people, but Harry clearly doesn't care.
The Black Echo begins when Harry is called to a death site near a dam. It appears that a heroin addict has crawled into a large pipe and overdosed. The case should be open and shut, and Harry's partner, the real estate salesman, clearly wants to declare it an OD and get back to the open house that he's hosting. But the scene doesn't look right to Harry and he pushes forward with the investigation.
Things really get interesting when the body is finally pulled out of the pipe and Harry vaguely recognizes the victim as William Meadows who served with Bosch in Vietnam. The two were "tunnel rats" who went deep underground to explore and destroy enemy tunnels. As Harry presses forward he discovers any number of other incongruities and ties Meadows to a crime that is currently under investigation by the F.B.I.
Bosch contacts the F.B.I., hoping to link their two investigations in an attempt to solve both the murder case that Harry is pursuing and the crime that the Fibbies are investigating. But the Bureau is just as hide-bound and as self-serving as the L.A.P.D., and Harry runs into roadblocks there as well.
Any other detective would almost certainly give up and just follow orders to lay off. But not Harry Bosch. He will pursue this case to the bitter end, no matter who he has to alienate or what he has to sacrifice in the process. And in this case it takes him through a brilliantly plotted story that leads to a tremendous climax.
From the very beginning Harry Bosch has been one of the most compelling figures ever to inhabit the world of crime fiction and he continues to fill that role twenty-four years down the road from this book. The Black Echo is a great beginning to what has become a fabulous series.