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Literature / The Black Echo

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The Black Echo is a 1992 novel by Michael Connelly. It was Connelly's debut novel, and as such was also the debut novel for his most famous character, world-weary LAPD detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch.

Detective Harry Bosch is a 40-year-old investigator with Hollywood homicide, having been recently demoted from the elite Robbery-Homicide division after a questionable shooting of a suspect. He is called out to a crime scene that appears to be a case of a heroin addict crawling up a drain pipe and giving himself a fatal overdose. Bosch is suspicious, and soon figures out that it was murder. He also realizes that the victim, one William Meadows, was a member of a "tunnel rat" unit fighting the VC in underground tunnels in Vietnam—the same unit that Bosch himself was in as a young man. In fact, the two knew each other.

Bosch's dogged persistence reveals a connection between Meadows and a recent unsolved bank robbery in which the robbers tunneled into the bank, Meadows having been part of the team due to his experience in Vietnam with tunnel warfare. Bank robbery is a federal beef and thus Bosch winds up meeting FBI Special Agent Eleanor Wish, who herself has a connection with The Vietnam War: her older brother fought there and never came back. Harry and Eleanor fall in love, and while they're doing that, they're also busy untangling a dark mystery that stretches back to Saigon over 20 years ago.

Tropes present in this book:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Turns out that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has service tunnels under the city big enough to drive trucks in. This is how the bank robbers got close to the bank.
  • The Alcoholic: Lucius Porter, a washed-up homicide cop with a giant beer gut and an alcoholic's red nose who spends all his time drunk in bars. When Bosch is put on special assignment with Eleanor Wish his partner Jerry Edgar is paired with Porter, much to Edgar's disgust.
  • Batman Gambit: Eleanor Wish pulls one against the guys responsible for killing her brother. With mixed results.
  • Bank Robbery: Climaxes with one of these, as the bad guys attempt to rob a safe deposit building.
  • Blackmail: Knowing it's unlikely Eleanor will be convicted on his word, Bosch tells her he'll tell the people whose diamonds the robbers targeted about her unless she confesses. She turns herself in.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Happens with Rourke after Eleanor Wish shoots him in the tunnel. Bosch notes correctly that this means Rourke was shot through the lungs.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Meadows' military service record. Bosch puts out an order for it and is told it will take a while. He then pretty much forgets about it, until he receives it several days later. It contains the vital clue that unravels the mystery. Also, Rourke's casual comment about how he too served in Vietnam is crucial to the resolution.
    • Eleanor's story about her brother, and how she wants "justice" for him after he didn't come back from Vietnam. Turns out that's her motive. Then there's Sharkey's description of a big man and a small man disposing of the body. The "small man" was Eleanor.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Lampshaded, as Rourke boggles at the coincidence that, of all the cops in LA, the one called out to investigate the death of Billy Meadows turns out to be somebody who knew Meadows personally.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Bosch describing Meadows.
    Bosch: He'd volunteer and volunteer and volunteer.
  • Detective Mole: Special Agent John Rourke, the FBI agent in charge of the bank robbery unit, was the mastermind behind the WestLand bank robbery and is plotting another bank job. And Eleanor Wish was in it with him, although she has ulterior motives of her own that involve revenge for her brother's death all those years ago.
  • Dirty Cop: FBI special agent Rourke is the murderer and the bank robber mastermind, and Eleanor Wish is in on it with him.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Eleanor Wish. She is in cahoots with Rourke about the bank robbery and even was an accessory after the fact in covering up the murder of Meadows. But her real agenda was to destroy Rourke for murdering her brother some twenty years earlier.
  • Drunken Glow: Lucius Porter, a washed-up homicide cop with a giant beer gut and an alcoholic's red nose who spends all his time drunk in bars.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Harry Bosch is introduced waking up from a nightmare of The Vietnam War, having fallen asleep in a chair fully clothed. He is surrounded by cigarette butts and empty beer bottles. He is firmly established as someone whose personal life is not in order.
  • Flashback: There's a flashback to a scene with 20-year-old Harry and future murder victim Billy Meadows in a tunnel together somewhere in South Vietnam.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Homicide Information Tracking Management Automated Network.
  • Glad You Thought of It: Eleanor got Rourke into reuniting Meadows, Franklin and Delgado for the caper by making him think it was his idea.
  • Hold the Unsolicited Ingredient: Inverted. Harry Bosch specifically orders a pizza with anchovies in order to unsettle a teenage witness that he is interrogating.
  • I Never Told You My Name: The bad guy is walking Sharkey down a tunnel when he calls him by name, and Sharkey realizes that he never told the bad guy his name. This does not save Sharkey from being murdered immediately afterwards.
  • Internal Affairs: Played straight, with loathesome IAD cops Lewis and Clarke ("the explorers"), who hate the hell out of Cowboy Cop Harry Bosch and long to bust him from the LAPD and hopefully put him in prison.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Bosch is called an asshole by one of the IAD cops early in the book. It's a long time before we really get an objective look at Harry (when he finally appears as a secondary character in A Darkness More Than Night) but there's really no question about it: he truly is an asshole.
  • Just Between You and Me: Rather than just shooting Bosch in the tunnel, Rourke goes on a long rant where he fills in some details about the plot and complains about Bosch ruining his plans. This allows enough time for Eleanor Wish to show up and shoot him.
  • Loophole Abuse: Beverly Hills Safe & Lock's selling point is the fact its clients' belongings are as safe there as they would be in bank vaults but without the legal restrictions placed on banks since it's not a bank.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The murder that starts the story is carefully staged to look like a heroin overdose. Harry Bosch is not fooled. It turns out the people who did it have previously done the same to Eleanor's brother years ago and she orchestrated the caper as part of a revenge plan against them.
  • Meaningful Name: Downplayed somewhat in that we have only just met Harry, but Eleanor Wish does represent something of a lost hope in his life that he might find happiness. Perhaps best appreciated in retrospect, given what develops between them over the course of the series.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Martin B. Avery III
  • "Nighthawks" Shot: Eleanor has a framed print of Nighthawks. She and Harry commiserate about how they're a couple of loners who found each other like in the painting, with Eleanor even calling them "a couple of nighthawks."
  • The Oldest Tricks in the Book: While trying to locate the place where the second diamond box is kept, Bosch wonders if he fell for the oldest trick in the surveillance book.
  • Pink Mist: "...blood and brain spattered the wall behind him" as Pierce is shot to death by the robbers from the tunnel.
  • Preppy Name: Martin B. Avery III
  • Samus Is a Girl: Harry is surprised to find that Special Agent E.D. Wish is a girl, the lovely Eleanor Wish.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Bosch has nightmares and claustrophobia from his time as a Vietnam "tunnel rat". Discussed when Eleanor Wish tells him that they pulled his VA file and found out about his psychotherapy.
  • Shout-Out: "He coughed loudly like he had seen Nicholson do in a movie once and at the same time tore the BOLO sheet out of the binder."
  • Spanner in the Works: Meadows' killers expected it'd take longer for his body to be found and the authorities would dismiss him as some heroin addict who died of a fatal overdose. The body was found on the very same night and the detective sent to the scene knew Meadows and decided to investigate.
  • Switching P.O.V.: No fewer than four POV—Bosch; Sharkey, the teenaged delinquent and murder suspect; Lewis and Clarke, the IAD cops; and Deputy Chief Irvin Irving. Early-Installment Weirdness for Connelly, who has never used more than two POV in later novels.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Bosch says this word-for-word when he realizes that the dead guy in the pipe is his old Army buddy. He thinks the same thing later when seeing Rourke's name in Meadows' file. He's half right. The bad guys say it really was a coincidence that the detective sent to the place where Meadows' body was dumped knew him, but the Rourke-Meadows connection is not a coincidence and in fact is what leads Harry to solve the mystery. The place chosen by Eleanor to dump Meadows' body was chosen because it was in Bosch's turf and it'd get Bosch involved regardless of which detective would answer the call.
  • Title Drop: "The black echo" is what Harry used to call the tunnels when he went down in them during his time in Vietnam.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The original Big Bads behind the events that led to the plot. Rourke and Eleanor Wish's older brother were mixed up with an Asian drug-smuggling ring.
  • Tunnel King: Why Billy Meadows was part of the plot in the first place, being a tunnel expert from his Vietnam days.
  • The Vietnam Vet: Harry Bosch was a "tunnel rat" who engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the VC and the NVA in underground tunnels. Bosch discovers that the murder victim he's investigating was another member of his unit, who was putting his experience as a Vietnam tunnel rat to use by participating in a conspiracy to tunnel into and rob a bank.
  • Wall Slump: Rourke's look of surprise when he does this after Eleanor shoots him helps Harry figure out her part in the crime.