Ranking Michael Connelly's Finest Novels. And the Winner Is . . .

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by Peter Moreira

As I wrote, re-wrote then edited my novel The Haight, I gained inspiration from reading the work of the best crime writers, and that meant diving again into the novels of Michael Connelly.

I have long been a diehard Connelly fan. I’ve read everything he’s published, fiction and non-fiction, much of it twice. The only other author I can say that about is the man with whom Connelly shares a birthday – Ernest Hemingway. 

Connelly’s strength is his mastery of police procedure. As he developed his Mickey Haller series, he showed similar expertise in the criminal court system. As a stylist, his writing is lean, so lean it’s easy to overlook its flourishes. Some of his descriptions of Los Angeles are timeless. If I were a photographer in L.A., I’d try to produce a coffee table book of photos of the city with accompanying text by Michael Connelly.

His plots are compelling, imbued with an atmosphere of menace even before the protagonist is threatened or attacked. He resists the urge to over-complicate, so the reader is drawn into the plot but not confused by it. Most are classic whodunnits – the reader is kept guessing until the final chapter.

As for characterization, Harry Bosch is one of the great cops in literature. I’d say he’s better than Rebus and Harry Hole, the only two cops in modern fiction that can measure up to him. Connelly would rank among the top crime writers if he had only produced the Bosch series, but the non-Bosch books round out an impressive library. Below, is my list of Michael Connelly’s greatest books:

No. 10. The Reversal

Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller are working together on a case. The greatest reversal in this book is that Haller is acting as prosecutor. The plot is classic Connelly, and the villain Jason Jessop is one of the best bad guys in the Connelly canon.

No. 9. A Darkness More than Night

Connelly is often at his best when he brings the heroes of his various series together, and A Darkness More than Night is a prime example. Harry Bosch and Terry McCaleb fill the traditional roles of rivals-turned-collaborators. (Jack McElvoy from The Poet is tossed in for good measure.) Connelly brings out the works of the original Hieronymus Bosch more in this book than in any other, and he’s restrained in his use of the artist’s paintings to deliver full impact.

No. 8. Chasing the Dime

What I loved about this book – other than Connelly exploring the startup world – is the naïve everyman being lured into a criminal world he doesn’t understand. At the end, Henry Pierce seems to face an insurmountable force, a criminal mob that he has to overcome. Connelly paces this story perfectly.

No. 7. The Narrows

The Narrows is another Connelly novel that ties together a lot of strands – Harry Bosch, Terry McCaleb, Rachael Walling and one of Connelly’s best villains, Robert Backus. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, including first-person narration from Bosch himself. Great action at the end.

No. 6 Void Moon

This under-appreciated gem was the first Connelly book I ever read. It was a departure for Connelly, a “heist” story set in Las Vegas with his first female protagonist, Cassie Black. The plot features probably the best twist of any Connelly story.

No. 5. Trunk Music

It’s difficult to rank the Harry Bosch novels but Trunk Music is simply a flawless police procedural. The plot brings out Bosch’s intelligence, his cunning, and the fact he’s not afraid to trade punches with hoods who annoy him.

No. 4.  Concrete Blonde

This was the third Bosch novel and it showed that Connelly was a force to be reckoned with. Connelly effortlessly weaves a police procedural with a courtroom drama to produce a complex plot that is never confusing. The case is a civil proceeding against Bosch, and he has to solve a related murder in order to win it. Brilliant plot.

No. 3 The Last Coyote

This novel stands out among the Bosch books because of its emotional depth. We see the downside of Bosch’s lone wolf antics, as they result in the torture and murder of another cop. Bosch has to fight through his sense of guilt to avenge the killing. 

No. 2 The Poet

This book is generally held up as Connelly’s Sistine Chapel, and it is a remarkable work. With action taking place in half a dozen states over 598 pages, it’s the most epic of Connelly’s novels. It starts with Connelly’s most memorable line – “Death is my beat” – which could have been Connelly’s mantra during his time at the Los Angeles Times.  Narrated by journalist Jack MacElvoy, The Poet is Connelly’s deepest study of the life of a crime reporter. More than anything, The Poet is an engrossing, sprawling, addictive yarn that keeps you turning the page 597 times.

No. 1. The Lincoln Lawyer

I always had the feeling that Connelly had been storing up observations about defense lawyers for years before finally channeling it all into Mickey Haller in 2005. Connelly packs the book with clever scenes that create a character who is at once shifty, guilt-ridden, untrustworthy, stalwart, money-grubbing, generous and – over the course of the book – endearing. It features riveting courtroom exchanges, and one of Connelly’s more memorable mysteries, involving an ankle bracelet. The Lincoln Lawyer ticks every box there is for a great crime novel. 

I’ve often believed the power in Connelly’s work comes from his restraint. But looking at this list, I’m also astonished by how much variety he brings to a single genre.

Peter Moreira