DARK SACRED NIGHT, by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown and Company; 433 pp., $29.
Harry Bosch has had plenty of partners, but he might have met his match.
In his long career as a Los Angeles detective in 20 best-selling novels by Michael Connelly, the driven Bosch has shared countless surveillance hours and bad cups of coffee with the likes of Frankie Sheehan, Jerry Edgar and Iggy Ferras. Many of his professional partners — Kiz Rider, Rachel Walling, Lucia Soto, Bella Lourdes — have been women.
Bosch’s latest partner, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard, is different. Unlike all those other partners, Ballard is a lot like Bosch himself, which makes for a very interesting work dynamic.
Bosch is Connelly’s great creation, one of those complicated but beloved characters that readers always want more of, a presence in most of the author’s 11 other novels and the driving force of his namesake Amazon TV series, now moving into its fifth season.
Connelly introduced Ballard in 2017 in a stand-alone novel, “The Late Show.” A reserved, athletic woman in her 30s, Ballard is a gifted investigator, the second-youngest woman to make detective in the LAPD. But her promising career was sidetracked into the undesirable overnight shift that gave that book its title.
Connelly’s new novel, “Dark Sacred Night,” is a duet, with the two detectives meeting, warily circling each other and then teaming up to pursue a heartbreaking cold case, with sections of the book alternating between their points of view.
The two meet when Ballard comes into the detective bureau to write reports in the wee hours and finds a stranger rifling through cabinets of old case files. She knows Bosch’s reputation in the LAPD, and she learns that he has retired and is now a volunteer at the tiny San Fernando police department, working cold cases.
The cold case that has him hooked, he tells Ballard, is the murder nine years before of Daisy Clayton. The 15-year-old runaway’s body was found in an alley. She had been sexually assaulted, tortured and strangled, her body washed in bleach to remove evidence except for a curious imprint on the skin of one hip. Ballard volunteers to help with Daisy’s case, and soon she and Bosch are tracking leads together.
Although the relationship between Ballard and Bosch crackles on the page, the tension isn’t sexual. For one thing, their interest in each other is professional, something like a pair of world-class chess players in a match, one-upping each other and learning from it.
For another, flirtation would run counter to the tone of “Dark Sacred Night,” a book whose dark core is sexual violence against women. Ballard is working the late show because she reported a superior’s attempt to sexually assault her; the assignment is a slapback from the department’s heavily male power structure.
Unlike a lot of his male peers, Bosch is sensitive to Ballard’s struggles. Part of it is being the father of a daughter; part of it is the impact of so many cases like Daisy’s, in which male privilege and misogyny lead to the worst kinds of violence, its victims so often women and girls. And part of it boils down to Bosch’s mantra: “Everybody matters, or nobody matters.” It’s a code with no gender exceptions.
The plot charges ahead through Daisy’s case as well as others, like Bosch’s dive into a long-ago gang murder, which will have serious repercussions. Ballard and Bosch both face complicated challenges to their personal ethics, challenges born not out of greed or fear but of their burning desire to make things right.
Through it all, they challenge each other. Ballard brings a fresh perspective, and Bosch brings all the things so many readers love about him.