Jack McEvoy, the reporter who earlier broke the case of The Poet returns in this novel. Jack is now working at the Los Angeles Times. But even back in 2008, when this book first appeared, the newspaper business had fallen into deep trouble, thanks largely to the arrival of the Internet. Even major papers like the Times are hemorrhaging money and have been forced to downsize.
As the book opens, Jack learns the sad lesson that even a seasoned and gifted reporter is not exempt from the harsh realities of the new day and age. Jack is laid off, but is informed that he can keep his job for another two weeks if he will train his replacement, a young woman who has virtually no experience and who does not have the connections essential for a reporter to be successful on the crime beat, but who will do the job for a lot less money than McEvoy.
Having little or no choice, Jack reluctantly agrees, but he is determined to go out on a high note with a major story that will make his editors regret their decision. Jack had earlier written a relatively minor story about a gangbanger who had been arrested for the murder of an exotic dancer. The woman was found stuffed in the trunk of a car; the kid's fingerprints were found in the car, and after a few hours of interrogation, the kid allegedly confessed to the crime. Case closed.
Just after Jack learns he's been laid off, he gets a call from the banger's grandmother claiming, naturally, that the kid is innocent. Jack doesn't believe that, of course, but he sees a story in the tale of how this young man wound up committing such a horrendous crime. His young replacement, Angela Cook, is assigned to work the story with him, but in doing some preliminary research, the two discover a similar crime that had been committed in Las Vegas. Jack suddenly realizes that maybe the kid really isinnocent and has been set up to take the fall for a crime he didn't commit.
That turns the story in an entirely different direction, and before Jack can hardly begin working it, the F.B.I. suddenly appears on the scene in the person of Rachel Walling, who had worked the Poet case with Jack. With that the book is off and running and Jack and Rachel find themselves hard on the trail of a very clever and dangerous criminal. No one will be safe.
Michael Connelly is a very good writer, and this is a perfectly serviceable serial killer tale, although it's not among Connelly's best books. What struck me most about the book, though, was the depressing subplot about the sad state of journalism in the country in this day and age. The story of what is happening at the L. A. Times and, by extension, at other papers across the country was, for me, really the scariest part of the story. Any democracy, if it's going to thrive and prosper, depends on the foundation of a well-informed citizenry. That, in turn, depends on having a vigorous and thriving free press. In a day and age when journalists are under attack, when newspapers across the country are scaling back their operations and in some cases are disappearing altogether, serial killers may turn out to be the least of our worries.