Connelly, Michael. The Poet (1996)
Warner, 501 pages, $7.99 paperback
ISBN 0 446 60261 2
Death is Jack McEvoy’s beat: he’s a journalist for the Rocky Mountain News covering high-profile murder cases. Jack’s twin brother, Sean, also covers the death beat: he’s a homicide detective for the Denver PD. When Sean’s partner brings Jack the news that Sean is dead, an apparent suicide, Jack can’t make himself accept the police version of Sean’s death.
So Jack begins an investigation that takes him to several states to examine similar deaths of homicide detectives. Soon the investigation links him up with the FBI, and Jack falls hard for Rachel Walling, one of the investigators. The subplot of the relationship between Jack and Rachel—and between the reporter and the investigator—contributes to the growing tension as both Jack and the FBI try to zero in on the killer they’ve dubbed the Poet because his calling card is lines from the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.
Most authors of action thrillers depend on the plot to carry the novel. But this stand-alone thriller—a departure from the Harry Bosch series—showcases Connelly’s talent of combining character and plot into a seamless whole. I’ve read this novel with two different book groups, and both have praised it as a compelling, well written mystery.
Connelly is a very good writer, but he’s not perfect. At one point he tells Rachel about the death of his sister, which occurred when Jack and Sean were 10 years old. This is the first time he has told anyone about what happened that day, and telling the story is a harrowing emotional experience for him. "Me and Sean were outside and Sarah was watching us" (273), Jack tells Rachel. Connelly probably has Jack use fractured grammar in order to convey his intense emotion: for that moment Jack is once again the frightened 10-year-old boy reliving that day. However, I don’t believe a trained journalist like Jack would ever use such grammar; he simply doesn’t think like that. Someone like Jack would be as likely to describe the event in bad English as he would be to describe it in Chinese.
This is a very minor point, though. For the most part Connelly is true to the characters he works so hard to create convincingly. After the events of the book’s last 75 pages, he’s too good a writer to give us the happily-ever-after ending we’ve almost come to expect because so many lesser writers patly provide it. And he even leaves open the possibility of a sequel. With a book and a writer this good, that’s a happy ending indeed.
© 2001 by Mary Daniels Brown