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Literature / The Night Fire

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The Night Fire is a 2019 crime novel by Michael Connelly. It is the 23rd novel featuring his most common protagonist, former LAPD cop Harry Bosch, and the third featuring his newest protagonist, present-day LAPD cop Renee Ballard.

Harry Bosch attends the funeral of his first partner and mentor in homicide investigation, John Jack Thompson. He is surprised when, after the funeral, Thompson's widow gives him something she found among his possessions: a complete file for an LAPD homicide investigation, also known as a "murder book".

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The murder book is about the 1990 murder of one John Hilton, a 24-year-old drug user and ex-con. Hilton was shot and killed in his car in an alley known as a hangout for drug dealers, and the detectives at the time assumed that it was a simple matter of a drug user going out to score and instead getting robbed of his money and shot. Harry is intrigued, but he's 69 years old and out of law enforcement for good after the events of previous novel Dark Sacred Night, so he goes to his new, informal partner, Hollywood homicide detective Renee Ballard. They agree to work the case together. They discover one puzzling detail: there is nothing in the murder book after Thompson took it out of the files, no indication that he ever worked it himself. Bosch begins to wonder just why Thompson took the file.

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Meanwhile, both Bosch and Ballard have other cases. Bosch is working as a defense investigator for his brother Mickey Haller, on what seems to be an open-and-shut case: Haller's client confessed to murdering a judge, Judge Walter Montgomery, and DNA from the client was found under the judge's fingernail. But Haller is convinced his client didn't do it and sure enough, Bosch discovers that the seemingly simple case is actually much more complicated. Ballard for her part is investigating the death of a homeless man who died when his tent caught on fire; it looks like the man kicked over a portable gas-powered heater, but Renee has doubts.

While all this is going on, Harry Bosch is dealing with some bad personal news: he has been diagnosed with early-stage leukemia.


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Tropes:

  • Ambiguous Situation: We never do find out if the case of the 11-year-old girl who hanged herself was really suicide or actually murder. Renee has her suspicions: the mother did not cut her daughter down, and the father, when Renee made the call, did not ask how his daughter killed herself. But Ballard has no evidence.
  • Amoral Attorney: Taken to the extreme. It turns out that the law firm of Michaelson and Mitchell, and specifically Michaelson and his underling Clayton Manley, have been using a hit woman to murder for them. The homeless man who burned to death was killed by the hit woman because he was actually the heir to a lot of money, money that his brother, a Michaelson and Mitchell client, wanted. And Manley had Judge Montgomery murdered because Montgomery embarrassed him in court and damaged his career.
  • Artistic License – Law: Michael Connelly admits in the postscript that the steps for getting a wiretap are actually quite complicated but were "shortened for dramatic purposes".
  • Bald, Black Leader Guy: Lt. Washington, Renee's supervisor, is described as "tall, African-American, with a shaved head." Renee has had some very bad experiences with LAPD leadership but Washington is a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Broken Pedestal: Harry is very disturbed to learn the truth of why Thompson took the murder book out of the files. It turns out that Thompson wasn't investigating the case, he wanted to stop anyone else from investigating it, because John Hilton was his out-of-wedlock son, and Thompson didn't want anyone to know that his secret son was a gay ex-con drug addict.
    Bosch: True heroes are hard to come by, I guess.
  • Buddy Cop Show: Harry Bosch the grizzled old ex-cop, and Renee Ballard the current LAPD cop less than half his age, working cases together, "off the record and below department radar."
  • Catapult Nightmare: Ballard, who is homeless by choice and lives in a tent on the beach, has a nightmare in which she dreams that she dies in a tent fire like the homeless man. The nightmare ends when "Ballard sat up with a start."
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Laurie Lee Wells, a juror, seen entering the courthouse right before Judge Montgomery. Dismissed by the cops because she didn't see or hear anything (she was listening to headphones). It turns out she's the murderer, and she isn't really Laurie Lee Wells.
  • Continuity Nod: Every Michael Connelly novel has them.
    • Harry and Mickey have a brief conversation about using the media to help a legal case that alludes to Harry's What the Hell, Hero? dressing down of Mickey in Two Kinds of Truth.
    • Ballard remembers reading the notes of an old Hollywood beat cop with an odd talent for poetry, who described the denizens of the night as "human tumbleweeds moving with the winds of fate." This is from previous Bosch & Ballard novel, Dark Sacred Night.
    • The events of The Overlook are discussed at length, as Bosch was exposed to radiation after a bunch of cesium was stolen from a hospital, and now he has leukemia and wants to sue the LAPD.
      • Barring something a future book finally coming back on Harry from The Black Ice, this is probably the longest Sequel Hook payoff in all of Connelly's works.
    • One of many, many references in Connelly books to fictional "Archway Studios", dating back to the 1990s and Trunk Music. Hilton's roommate/boyfriend Nathan Brazil was working as a production assistant at Archway at the time of the murder.
    • Renee has a brief interaction with Rob Compton, her casual boyfriend from The Late Show. Their relationship ended badly and Compton still holds a grudge.
    • After a particularly good day in court Mickey Haller says "It's like The Gods of Guilt are smiling on me today."
    • Bosch sees the Angels Flight funicular from a skyscraper and remembers investigating a double murder there. That's Angels Flight.
    • Caterina Cava is the leading suspect in a murder at the Cleopatra casino in Vegas. This fictional casino is a central location in non-Bosch novel Void Moon.
  • Dirty Cop: Downplayed and played for laughs in the story of John Jack's pulling over a bakery truck and basically extorting a pie from the driver on the grounds that he had committed a "two-pie traffic offense" but would accept one pie because he was a "fair man."
  • Disturbed Doves: "A murder of crows" (that's what a flock of crows is called!) takes off after Bosch slams open the access door to the roof that Clayton Manley supposedly jumped off of.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Marko the liquor-store proprietor points to a cop car outside in the parking lot and expresses appreciation that the LAPD keeps an eye on his place. Ballard thinks that the real reason cops often park in that lot is the donut shop next door.
  • Double-Meaning Title: As usual for Connelly. This one refers both to the literal night-time fire being investigated by Ballard early on and to the metaphorical fire that gets built inside an investigator when he or she takes every case personally, as Bosch was taught to do by John Jack Thompson, which by extension becomes a "night fire" when he passes this lesson along to Ballard, who it appears will continue to work the late show.
  • Got Volunteered: How Mickey gets his current case, despite not handling murder cases any more. Brick joked later when Harry says his brother doesn't "volunteer" for murder cases any more.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Mitchell, the non-criminal lawyer in the firm of Michaelson and Mitchell, catches Harry Bosch sneaking around. He says "I am asking you to leave this office right—", and that's when he's shot through the head by Caterina Cava.
  • Left Hanging: The case of the 11-year-old-girl committing suicide is never resolved, and Renee never makes a definite determination as to whether it was suicide or murder.
  • Pink Mist: Ballard is in the middle of arresting Elvin Kidd when Kidd's wife comes out of the house with a gun, and points it at Ballard. It was a bad idea.
    "Then the side of her head exploded in blood and tissue before Ballard even heard the shot come from a distance."
  • Posthumous Character: John Jack Thompson, Bosch's mentor long ago. We learn a lot about Bosch's history with Thompson, and then we learn some things that reveal how Thompson did not live up to the high ideals he imparted to Bosch.
  • Professional Killer: It turns out that the homeless guy and the judge were both murdered by the same person, a female hit man named Caterina Cava.
  • Reality Ensues: Harry's leukemia.
  • Real Person Cameo: Detective Mitzi Roberts, the Real Life LAPD cop who served as Connelly's inspiration for Renee Ballard, is briefly mentioned.
  • Remember the New Guy?: John Jack Thompson's name is never mentioned over 22 Harry Bosch novels, until he's described in this one as Harry Bosch's first partner and former mentor. Justified, as when the Bosch series started with The Black Echo in 1992, Harry was already a veteran homicide cop with years of experience on the job.
  • The Reveal: It's nicely handled with just the right amount of foreshadowing, but Harry's reveal to Mickey that he has leukemia is certainly a bomb dropped on the reader.
  • Sequel Hook: The third Harry Bosch novel in a row to have one. At the very end Renee and Harry agree to investigate a case in Thompson's filed, one Thompson and Bosch investigated: the unsolved murder of a female college student in 1982.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: Bosch and Ballard decide that she will be the one to follow a suspect into a diner with a heavily black clientele, because she can "pass for high yellow." Her father was Native Hawaiian.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: The book starts with John Jack Thompson's funeral. The murder book found in Thompson's office unravels a mystery, and also leads Harry to learn a lot he never knew about his old friend.
  • Team Dad: Bosch shows signs of this early, when he's got his daughter's safety on his mind. Ballard doesn't appreciate his paternalist comments, and calls him on them.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Typical of most Connelly novels going at least as far back as The Drop. The story starts off with Bosch being given Thompson's book on John Hilton. Then there's Bosch investigating the murder of a judge and Ballard investigating the matter of the homeless man who died in a fire. Those last two cases do connect in that the same character killed both, but the Hilton murder has nothing to do with the other two cases. There are other tertiary plots, like the chapter where Renee investigates the supposed suicide of a young girl, and Harry's leukemia diagnosis.
  • This Is the Part Where...: Laurie Lee Wells, the actress, lets Bosch and Ballard into her apartment.
    Wells: I hate to say this because I've actually played this part in a TV show, but "What's this about?"
  • Title Drop: Bosch tells Ballard the rule that Thompson taught him: "Take every case personally. It builds a fire."
  • Vanity License Plate: The mysterious woman who drove away from the liquor store was driving a car with a license plate that said "14U24ME"—"one for you, two for me." It turns out to be a stolen plate.
  • While You Were in Diapers: Max Talis, one of the detectives that investigated the Hilton murder back in 1990, gets very pissed when Ballard suggests he might be covering for someone.
    Talis: I was putting bad guys in jail when you were giving boys blow jobs under the bleachers!
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