Of all the overlapping characters in Michael Connelly's fictional universe, the closest to the author himself is Jack McEvoy, the newspaper reporter who helped nab a serial killer in 1996's The Poet. Both covered the crime beat at the Los Angeles Times after working at a regional paper. Though Connelly presciently left newspapers for the lush life of a best-selling novelist, McEvoy is still on the beat at the start of The Scarecrow, with a not-very-good novel manuscript sitting in a desk drawer. Then comes the pink slip and a splashy murder case McEvoy hopes will earn him a Pulitzer-worthy scoop in his last two weeks on the job, as a Bronx cheer to his bean-counting bosses.
Despite the topicality of the story's setting, Connelly doesn't dwell on the death of print journalism. In fact, Connelly doesn't dwell on much of anything in his headlong race to maintain narrative momentum. I mean that as high praise. Connelly is an excellent mystery writer, but the usual laws of maintaining suspense do not seem to apply to him: The killer, a tech-savvy sicko who operates a data storage center where he mines digital data on potential victims, is ID'd in the very first chapter.
Nor do the laws of good descriptive writing apply. I can fully visualize The Scarecrow's expertly choreographed action sequences particularly a confrontation in a hotel stairwell and the climax in that bunkerlike data storage center but I couldn't tell you much about the physical appearance of FBI agent Rachel Walling, a Connelly regular who reteams with McEvoy here. (Her hair color? No clue.) If Connelly's work seems so cinematic, why has only one of his books been filmed to date, Clint Eastwood's middling Blood Work? I suspect it's because what drive his story are not the vivid action scenes but the more internal clue-reading of his heroes as they piece together the ingenious mystery plots. The Scarecrow certainly reads like a movie but it's one that unfolds not just in your mind's eye but primarily in your mind. A–