Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 8 November 2022)
Series: Ballard and Bosch – Book Four
Length: 393 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Legendary crime fiction author, Michael Connelly, returns with another impressive and deeply enjoyable read that once again brings together two of his best protagonists for a compelling investigation, with Desert Star.
Connelly is an author who needs very little introduction, having spent the last 30 years dominating the crime fiction world. His various outstanding works often cover several diverse subgenres of crime fiction, and his unique and captivating protagonists all exist in one shared universe, primarily set around Los Angeles. Ever since I started properly reading crime fiction a few years ago, Connelly has been an author I have particularly enjoyed each year, and I have had a wonderful time reading several of his most recent books. This includes the fantastic Mickey Haller legal thriller, The Law of Innocence, and the intense Jack McEvoy journalistic investigative read, Fair Warning (one of my favourite novels of 2020). However, some of my favourite Connelly books have been the more classic police investigation novels, all of which have been part of the Ballard and Bosch subseries.
The Ballard and Bosch books are an intriguing set of recent novels that bring together Connelly’s two main police protagonists into one investigative team. These two protagonists are female detective Renée Ballard and Connelly’s original protagonist, Harry Bosch, who has long retired from the LAPD but is still in the detective game. These two form a fantastic team, and it is always fun to see their interesting mentor/mentee relationship as they investigate a series of cases. There have so far been three Ballard and Bosch books, and I have had a wonderful time with each of them, including Dark Sacred Night, The Night Fire (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and The Dark Hours (one of my favourite books of 2021). Due to how awesome these last three books have been, I was quite excited to see that Connelly had a new one coming out in 2022, and that book, Desert Star, was one of my most anticipated reads for the second half of 2022.
Desert Star is set a year after the events of The Dark Hours, which saw Renée Ballard quit the LAPD after encountering sexism, corruption, and obstacles to solving her cases. Lured back after being offered a dream job, Ballard now finds herself leading an elite cold cases unit which hopes to find justice for the many unsolved murders throughout Los Angeles. While Ballard has already pulled together an effective team, there is still one person she needs to complete it: Harry Bosch.
While angry at Ballard following their last encounter, Bosch is lured back as a volunteer investigator after Ballard offers him help on the one cold case that has haunted him for years, the slaying of the Gallagher family. Years ago, the entire family of four was found brutally killed, their bodies buried in the desert, and Bosch has never forgotten them or the fact that he was unable to find the man he knows killed them. In return for access to the resources of Ballard’s unit, Bosch agrees to help Ballard solve her own cold case.
To keep their unit alive and well funded, Ballard needs to solve the rape and murder of a councilman’s sister years ago. There are few avenues for a further investigation, and Ballard hopes that Bosch’s unique views may be the key to solving it. However, after a chance clue connects their case to another brutal murder, Ballard and Bosch find themselves taking their investigation in some very dangerous directions. At the same time, Bosch’s obsession with finding the Gallagher family’s killer grows even more, as he finds himself determined to catch him before it’s too late. Can Ballard and Bosch solve their crimes, or will tragedy strike right at the heart of their partnership?
This was another outstanding crime fiction read from Connelly that combines a cool series of murder mystery cases with some intense character work to create and excellent story. Desert Star gets off to a quick start, bringing back the two main protagonists and showing what changes have gone through their lives in the last year, as well as introducing the new cold case unit. The reader is swiftly then brought across the two central murder cases that the protagonists are investigating. The initial focus is on the murder of councilman’s sister, which has political connotations for the cold case unit, but Bosch also spends a large amount of time examining his personal case. After some interesting breaks in the main case, Ballard and Bosch find themselves stuck looking far closer to home than they imagined, when clues point to a serial killer with connections to the very politician who created their unit. There are some great twists and turns towards the centre of the book as they come close to their revelations, and the identity of this killer is pretty clever, with several interesting clues in the lead-up to the big confrontation. At the same time, Bosch starts closing in on the main suspect in his case after revisiting witnesses from his initial investigation. This leads him down a long, dark road as he contemplates what he’s willing to risk to get justice. Everything leads up to a heart-pounding finale, which will leave readers on the edge of their seat as you honestly have no idea how far Connelly is going to take everything. Desert Star ends on a particularly satisfying note, and it will be interesting to see where Connelly’s narratives go next, as he has left several intriguing storylines open.
This was a pretty addictive and fast-paced read, and it really doesn’t take long to get drawn into the two intriguing cases. I loved the focus on cold case investigation in this book, which is a classic Connelly story element, and the author presents some excellent mystery elements. I had a lot of fun with both cases, one because it was a seemingly unsolvable case with huge political issues behind it, the other because of one protagonist’s intense obsession with cracking it. Connelly does a good job splitting focus between the two cases, which is made easier with the use of two perspective characters, Ballard and Bosch. Both have very different views of the investigations, and the split in perspectives helps to ratchet up the tension in several scenes extremely well. Connelly goes for a pretty fast pace in Desert Star, and you really find yourself powering through the narrative, especially once you get caught up in the excellent investigation arcs. I loved how both cases turned out, and Connelly puts in some great build-up for both of their powerful conclusions. Like most of the books in this shared crime universe, Desert Star can be easily read as a standalone novel, and no prior knowledge of either character is really required to enjoy it. However, this latest Ballard and Bosch book is coming off a lot of emotional build-up and character development from the previous entries, so you’ll appreciate Desert Star more if you’ve checked them out first. Connelly also throws in a ton of references to some previous novels, mainly some of Bosch’s older adventures, which established fans will really appreciate. I loved Desert Star’s amazing story and how it was presented, as will all die-hard Connelly readers.
As always with a Connelly read, there is a noticeable and impressive focus on the central characters, with the author diving deep into his two point-of-view protagonists, Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch. Both characters have a ton of history behind them at this point in Connelly’s joint universe, both as a team and as established, independent protagonists of their own novels. As such, Connelly takes a little less time introducing them in Desert Star than he would previously, and instead starts highlighting their current issues and concerns, as well as re-establishing the teamwork between them. While there is a little friction at the start of the book, mainly due to the fallout of The Dark Hours, Ballard and Bosch mostly get their investigative teamwork groove back and become an effective unit. While Bosch does take on the mentor role in this book, it isn’t as prevalent as it has been previously, mainly because Ballard is now in control of her own unit and is the boss. This forces her to supervise and try to control Bosch, with limited success, and this impacts their previous established dynamic. At the same time, Ballard also relies on Bosch’s unpredictability and dislike of the rules to solve their more difficult, politically associated case, so that creates some odd friction and reliance that I rather enjoyed.
Most of the best character work in Desert Star revolved around old favourite protagonist Harry Bosch. Bosch, who Connelly has aged up naturally over the last 30 years, is retired from the police, but he comes back to help Ballard with her case, and I loved seeing his maverick attitude reassert itself here. However, he is primarily concerned with his own cold case, and swiftly reignites his obsession with finding the man responsible for the murder of a family. This obsession soon starts to overwhelm him, and while he helps Ballard, he risks a lot to find his target while there is still time. Connelly paints a powerful picture of Bosch in this book, and there are some big reveals about him that have been a long time coming. While I won’t go into too much detail here, this is one of the more powerful and compelling Bosch narratives in a while, and Connelly does an outstanding job building up some tension around his storylines here. Ballard also gets some interesting development in this book, and it was great to see her as a leader in this book, especially after spending so many years as the LAPD’s unwanted pariah for her attempts to report a superior for sexual harassment. However, Ballard also encounters the darker side of leadership as she is forced to play politics and encounters various attempts to cover up the whole truth for expediency and self-gain. This forces her to make some tough choices, and she becomes a bit more like her mentor, Bosch, with every case. All this excellent character work really adds some impressive impact to Desert Star’s narrative, and this was one of the more significant novels for both of this amazing and iconic Connelly protagonists.
Michael Connelly continues to dominate the crime fiction scene with another epic and captivating read, Desert Star. Bringing back two outstanding protagonists for a joint investigation, Desert Star contains a compelling and clever investigation into two fascinating murders. Featuring a great story, some exciting pacing, and the amazing use of two complex protagonists, Desert Star was another exceptional read from Connelly that I had an awesome time reading. I can’t wait to see what Connelly writes next, and no doubt it will tie into the powerful moments raised in this incredible book.