Michael Connelly, Nine Dragons (2009)

“Nine Dragons” is the literary equivalent of dangling a free air ticket to Hong Kong in front of me. It won’t last 2 seconds before I snatch it and run to the nearest airport.

It may be a weakness, but I can’t resist the promise of a mystery set in Hong Kong, especially if the writer is Connelly. It was high time indeed to reconnect with beloved LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.

The novel starts with a “mundane” murder of the elderly Chinese store owner of a little liquor store (it nearly reads like an opening scene of NYPD Blue or Law and Orders). Very soon Bosch is on the trail of a triad murder, because Mr. Li has given weekly protection money to an affiliated thug.

Then the plot suddenly bifurcates and takes a more personal stake: China (and in particular Hong Kong) is not only a hotspot for triads, it is also the place where Bosch’s teenaged daughter Maddie and his ex-wife live. Bosch receives a video message on his phone showing that Maddie has been kidnapped, most probably by the same triad he has investigated.

Bosch can’t afford to lose a minute in Mr. Li’s murder case, as a suspect is under arrest for the weekend (and will be free on Monday if they can’t prove anything), but he nonetheless boards the next flight to Hong Kong to save his daughter, on a one-man mission.

The pace is breathtaking and moves swiftly from one tension node to the next. It wavers from the traditional police procedural (collaboration and suspicions between colleagues, navigating the legal process…) to the more tragic noir thriller (or is it the classic Hong Kong shootout movie à la John Woo?): a lonesome desperado with only his gun to fight an evil army – or die trying (there’s a scene on a boat that reminded me of Bryan Singer’s Usual Suspects). During this epic weekend, we get to see Bosch as a Vietnam veteran who has yearned for tough-guy invulnerability for his whole life, only to realize that his love for his daughter endangers him more than he ever thought.

The successful mix between the two genres is refreshing and I really enjoyed the adrenaline rush! I was a bit suspicious about the Hong Kong part but I found it quite convincing: the seedy parts of this brimming city, Wanchai (of Suzie Wong’s fame), Tsim Sha Tsui’s ugly Mansions (of Wong Kar Wai’s fame) and the concrete suburbs of the New Territories are all full of life and atmosphere. Definitely not the town parts that the Board of Tourism would like to promote, but true to life (as far as I know)!

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