I am going to start this review with a confession: although I have been given several books written by Michael Connelly and even lent them to my friends, Chasing the Dime is the first one that I have read – and, ironically enough, I bought it at a book sale in a Co-op supermarket near Oxford, because I’d run out of things to read. Normally, I wouldn’t buy books from a supermarket because I believe in supporting local bookshops. So, two firsts in one go!
The reason I’ve not read a Connelly novel until now is that, and my ignorance is pretty unpardonable, I’d been led to believe him to be the kind of blockbuster author in whom I’m least interested: big-picture, change-the-world sort of stuff (x saved the world single-handed from the next atom bomb, Hermann Göring, Nuremberg and suicide notwithstanding, has been alive and well in South America for the last sixty years and running drug rings, that sort of thing). Chasing the Dime is not like that at all. Instead, it is one of the most perfectly-crafted murder stories that I’ve ever read.
There’s the background, for a start. The hero, Henry Pierce, runs his own R & D company. It is conducting research into molecular computing, in a highly competitive sector where several other companies are also in the race to crack the conundrum. Their mission: to create a computer the size of a dime. Hence the title – but the title also reflects the company’s need to find sponsors and also, sadly, refers to why beautiful young women are forced to prostitute themselves. (The title is one of many aspects of the book that works on several levels.) I’m sure that when Connelly wrote this novel (it’s now well over ten years old), there was a race to bring such a molecular computer to the market in just the way that he describes, but it says a lot about his talent as a writer that, although during the course of the novel he reveals many facts about the complex technology involved (and has clearly mastered what these are), he never obtrudes knowledge on the reader in such a way that this information seems to be anything other than an integral part of the story. Few writers can pull this off.
Then there’s the plot. Henry’s obsessive research has just caused his girlfriend to break with him. Henry moves into a new flat, for which his PA acquires a new telephone number. The problems start straight away: the number had obviously previously been allocated to a call-girl. Because of certain facts in his past – which Connelly allows to emerge at enigmatic intervals throughout the story – Henry decides to find out the identity of the call-girl and what has happened to her. Owing to several rash but perfectly understandable (from the reader’s point of view) decisions, he quickly becomes a murder suspect.
I won’t say any more, for obvious reasons. However, I’d add one further thing: nothing in the plot is incredible; there are no fantastic twists or turns and not much transpires in a way that the reader can’t guess; yet, because of Connelly’s psychological insights and his fast-paced but not too whacky writing, the reader is held, spellbound, until the last page.
I owe Michael Connelly an apology for doubting him for so long. As it is, I shall do ‘penance’ in the most pleasurable of ways: by reading the rest of his novels in short order. You will, I’m sure, be lining up to tell me that his Harry Bosch series is a must-read and roundly ticking me off for my shocking prejudice.
It is Christmas Eve, so I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has read this blog and supported it with so many kind, helpful and insightful comments over the past year. It has been my very great pleasure to have ‘met’ you in this way and I feel extraordinarily humbled that you have spared the time to take so much interest in me and my writing. For those of you who celebrate Christmas and for those of you who don’t, I’d like to wish you a very happy and relaxing time and a spectacularly successful New Year – wherever you are and whatever you are doing. If you are a writer, I wish you some of that elusive luck that all writers need.
P.S. The blog-posts have been a little erratic in recent weeks, as I’ve been away a lot. I shall try to do better as my main New Year’s resolution! However, I’d like to share with you that the day-job is taking me to China in the first full week of the new year, so they may be a bit thin on the ground then – though you can be sure that I shall recount my experiences in as much detail as you can take afterwards!