The Poet by Michael Connelly is the fifth book in the Boschverse and much more of a dark psychological journey than the series up to this point. It is the first story not feature Harry Bosch and focus instead on writer Jack McEvoy a small town journalist his twin brother has been mysteriously in his view murdered.
The book is also the first appearance of FBI agent Rachel Walling.
Jack McEvoy, a journalist on a local Denver newspaper, is unable to believe that the death of his twin brother is suicide. His brother’s body is found in his car by an icy lake with a single bullet wound. His brother’s police colleagues point to a suicide note that quotes Edgar Allen Poe but McEvoy is determined to seek the truth.
Through McEvoy, Michael Connelly takes us on an investigative journalist’s search for a story, and a truth, across North America. There seems to be a trend of similar suicides. All policemen who had been dealt one final, troubling case. At the same time child pornographer, William Gladden’s story unfolds in California.
Neither of these two characters seem to have anything in common until the arrival of the Federal bureau of investigation in the form of Rachel Walling and her section commander. Added to this, the mysterious character called Eidolon. A person who seems to have a preoccupation with the words of Edgar Allen Poe.
All this leads to a dark psychological journey through multiple deaths and the minds and motivations of all those involved.
The dark side of the 90s
The Poet first came out in 1996. The mid-90s was the perfect collision of paranoia, conspiracy theorists and access to dial-up internet. Linear TV broadcast was at a peak that it has never again reached and the X-Files was compulsive Sunday night viewing and later-Sunday night IRC chat.
Web-pages were on Geocities and 28kbs modems slowly allowed paranoid fantasies to coalesce, line by line onto 15ins CRT monitors. HD digital photography was 480×360 jpegs.
This is the era of The Poet. Part of the joy of reading the story today – in our enlightened fibre-optic, Snopes-ified myth-busting, lack-of-shock at damn fine coffee world is that the pace and tone of Connelly’s character interactions reminds you of that dark-suited lack of trust.
This is a book that follows the VHS zeitgeist of Anthony Hopkins methodically scaring the sh*t out of a living room. The Poet could well be the blueprint for 20 seasons of Criminal Minds.
As in most of his books, Connelly manages to write characters who have a sense of depth to them. You can feel the motivations and it is rare that they jar your sense of identity. The Boschverse by now is managing to world-build quite succesfully. Despite these being all-new characters, there is a sense that they all fit into a larger scheme.
McEvoy is driven, Walling is the highly intelligent subordinate – who may be held back to her position by out-moded gender perceptions. Gladden, for all his vile and disgusting predilictions, is written in a way that you genuiely feel he is a victim of society. He cannot see his own abhorence and that victimised sense wanders off the page. A character trait only hand-braked by the sheer mercenary nature of his LA legal representation.
Page turning till the end… and then some
Connelly doesn’t ever deceive in his Boschverse. As a trained journalist he knows how to build structure, and lead the reader exactly where he needs them to go. The evidence is there throughout the narrative and like McEvoy, you just need to follow where the story is leading you. You will pat yourself on the back with 100 pages to go – I promise.
Difficult subject matter deftly handled
This is a minor shift from the procedural format of the preceeding books. Connelly builds the narrative of The Poet as both character piece and also with the feel of a handbook on deviant behaviour. It is part story and part evaluation of a diseased society. It is a tough but rewarding read. In hindsight from 2020 you are reading a 90s book and some of the tropes are more familiar today. At publication it won awards – rightly so.
Even now it merits a sustained read. I struggled to put this one down.