Desert Star by Michael Connelly Review

Propulsive, startling, and blade-sharp, Desert Star by Michael Connelly is the latest thrilling crime novel from the masterful creator of Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard.

Desert Star Synopsis

Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch series

LAPD detective Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch work together to hunt the killer who is Bosch’s “white whale”—a man responsible for the murder of an entire family.

A year has passed since LAPD detective Renée Ballard quit the force in the face of misogyny, demoralization, and endless red tape. Yet, after the chief of police himself tells her she can write her own ticket within the department, Ballard takes back her badge, leaving “the Late Show” to rebuild the cold case unit at the elite Robbery-Homicide Division.

For years, Harry Bosch has been working a case that haunts him but that he hasn’t been able to crack—the murder of an entire family by a psychopath who still walks free. Ballard makes Bosch an offer: come work with her as a volunteer investigator in the new Open-Unsolved Unit, and he can pursue his “white whale” with the resources of the LAPD behind him.

The two must put aside old resentments to work together again and close in on a dangerous killer.

(Little, Brown and Company, November 2022)

Genre(s) Police Procedural, Crime & Detective, Thriller &Suspense

Michael Connelly | Pub Date Nov. 08, 2022 | ISBN 9780316485654 | 400 pages

Book Review

“And these flowers, they’re amazing,” Ballard said.

“Desert star,” Bosch said. “I know a guy, says they’re a sign of god in this fucked-up world. That they are relentless and resilient against the heat and the cold, against everything that wants to stop them.”

Ballard nodded.

“Like you,” Bosch added.

Let’s cut right to the chase. Harry Bosch is probably my favorite fictional detective and Michael Connelly is one of my favorite contemporary crime fiction authors. Waiting for the next Bosch novel always feels like an itch I can’t scratch and desperately want to. Twenty-six books into the Harry Bosch series (now the Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch series), Connelly keeps cranking out one virtuoso novel after another with no sign of losing a step or an ounce of his passion for his craft. Desert Star, his fifth Bosch book since The Late Show introduced Renée Ballard as Harry’s heir apparent is another bestseller and with good reason.

The book opens with Ballard’s appearance at Bosch’s door with a proposition. Renée, after resigning at the end of the last book, is back at the LAPD, more determined than ever to change things for the better from within the organization rather than from without. Her decision caused friction between her and Bosch since returning to the LAPD meant she bailed on their agreement to work together as private investigators. Ballard, now the head of the recently reconstituted Open-Unsolved unit, which was disbanded because of staffing and budget cuts, asks Harry to join the unit as an unpaid civilian volunteer. As the carrot, she offers him a chance to work his personal “white whale,” the one case he never solved that Harry can’t let go of, the Gallagher Family case where someone murdered an entire family and buried them in the desert. Bosch reluctantly agrees, but no sooner has he started than Ballard yanks him off the Gallagher case to help investigate the unsolved rape and murder of a powerful city councilman’s sixteen-year-old sister. Councilman Jake Pearlman is the driving force behind the reestablishment of Open-Unsolved and Ballard knows his desire for justice for his sister is his principal motivation for rebuilding and becoming the patron saint of the unit. Feeling the unit has to either solve the Sarah Pearlman murder cold case or prove to Jake Pearlman’s satisfaction that it can’t be solved is the key for keeping Open-Unsolved up and running, Ballard makes it the priority. Harry isn’t happy that Renée seems intent on pulling the rug out from under him once again, but grudgingly reviews the Pearlman case and soon discovers an angle of investigation leading to a novel source of DNA belonging to Pearlman’s killer. That leads to the discovery of another rape and murder cold case where the police recovered DNA belonging to the same unidentified suspect and suggests Ballard and Bosch are hunting for a serial killer. Despite the priority Ballard has placed on the Pearlman case and related one, Harry does Harry and goes on working the Gallagher case, which at times has him butting heads with Renée. And then the book continues to the startling, yet not entirely unpredictable ending.

There were two things I loved most about Desert Star. In The Dark Hours, the previous book, Connelly used Bosch in almost a cameo role, putting the major emphasis on Renée Ballard. We get that. Bosch is aging out, a process that has accelerated with the last two Ballard and Bosch novels. Ballard is the fresh face of the franchise. But like me, I’m sure there must be legions of other Bosch fans out there who aren’t yet ready to let Harry go. So, until that happens, and sadly it eventually will, I’d rather see Bosch playing a major rather than a minor role in the books. And Harry Bosch is back in the thick of the things in this novel. The other thing I loved is this is one of the most action-packed Bosch books ever and qualifies as much as a thriller as a police procedural. Despite his advanced age, Harry still has a few moves left.

There seems three key take-aways from Desert Star. First, Bosch’s days are definitely numbered. And that makes this book feel more than a little bittersweet. If Harry makes it into another book, and that seems far from a sure thing given the ending here, I expect his role to be even more diminished than in The Dark Hours. Second, Harry’s half-brother, criminal defense attorney, Mickey Haller appears briefly in the book, which seemed to offer a golden opening for Connelly to expand on the mention here with another Lincoln Lawyer book. Finally, as much as I dread the loss of Harry Bosch, at least Renée Ballard is now a well-established proxy that will carry the franchise torch long into the future. That promises many more excellent and enjoyable Michael Connelly reads. Meanwhile, Bosch fans won’t want to miss this one.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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