The Magazine

City of Darkness

Michael Connelly's mysterious Los Angeles.

Dec 16, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 14 • By DAVID KLINGHOFFER
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Most enjoyable of all is the way Los Angeles itself emerges as a character. The Pacific, such a different ocean from the Atlantic--wider and deeper, somehow wiser, but with a calm that conceals unfathomable anger--is never distant from the action. Henry is always peering out on its "blue-black water"--yes, that's exactly how it looks--set against "the burnt-orange color of a smoggy sunset," as if he's hoping the waves will yield up Lilly's poor, broken body.

Even so, Connelly is mainly interested not in painting word portraits, but in spinning out a tale that will keep you with your nose between the pages. He tells a story better than Chandler. Notoriously indifferent to keeping plotlines straight, the latter couldn't really be bothered with storytelling. On page 41, another Internet escort tells Henry that Lilly is "long gone and whatever happened to her . . . just happened. That's all." From about this point, like Henry, we're hooked. Connelly effortlessly builds suspense up to and including a climax that, while not completely satisfying, is definitely surprising. You don't see it coming, yet it makes sense.

ANOTHER POINT OF COMPARISON: In their overlapping L.A.-centered realities, both writers take it as a given that, for all the hurt and cruelty, ultimately justice is done. There is indeed an order in Creation, however difficult it may be to discern. Toward the end of "Chasing the Dime," Henry sits "behind the wheel [of his car] thinking about what he had done, about his sins. He knew he got what he deserved. Most people did."

What does Michael Connelly deserve? No, he isn't quite on the level of Raymond Chandler, but given that very little in literature is on the level it was fifty years ago, he should be recognized as a worthy successor.

David Klinghoffer is the author of "The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism," to be published by Doubleday in April 2003.