Current events have a way of showing up in fiction. The best writers use these themes to enhance the plot rather than detract from a good story. No surprise that two veteran mystery writers – Michael Connelly and Lee Child – have done just that, weaving the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our country into their page-turning new thrillers.
Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly’s police detective Harry Bosch has retired from the LAPD and now works part time closing cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department. Bosch is toiling away in the bowels of the building obsessing over one such case when his old partner, Lucia Soto, along with two men in suits, one an LAPD detective, the other an assistant district attorney, show up. New DNA information has come to light and someone Bosch put away 30 years ago could be released. Preston Borders was convicted of murdering Danielle Skyler and has been on death row. Bosch knew Borders had also killed two other women, but the D.A. claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges. The property box related to the Skyler case was reopened and semen from a rapist named Lucas John Olmer was found on the victim’s clothing. The implication is clear: either Bosch messed up or, even worse, planted evidence to convict Borders.
Before Bosch can absorb what he’s hearing, his current partner, Bella Lourdes, barges in, saying there’s been a shooting at La Farmacia Familia in a downtown mall has left the owner, José Esquivel, and his son, José Jr., dead. The son was shot not only in the head and the back, but also in the rectum, signifying to Bosch a possible gang hit. Further investigation finds that the son had lodged a complaint against a nearby clinic that was overprescribing oxycodone. During a stake out at the clinic, Bosch and Lourdes watch as a van pulls up and drops off eleven elderly people. Twenty minutes later, the eleven come out and get back in the van. Bosch quickly understands that these “pill shills” are being used to collect painkillers which can then be sold on the street.
Turns out that another one of Bosch’s former partners, Jerry Edgar, now works at the medical board. Edgar explains to Bosch how these clinics operate. “Cappers,” the people who run the mills, enlist a “dirtbag doctor” willing to write prescriptions for the “pill shills.” Most of the shills are addicts and willing to be paid in pills to feed their habits. Busting this drug ring will be no small feat. And Bosch, in order to save his reputation, must also worry about keeping Borders in prison. He enlists his half brother, Mickey Haller, the so-called “Lincoln Lawyer.” Haller’s methods are not always kosher, but Bosch knows he will need Haller’s help to figure out how someone on Borders’ team has planted Olmer’s DNA in the sealed property box.
Connelly is one of the most skilled crime writers on the scene today and Two Kinds of Truth is one of his best. Bosch may be getting older, but he’s still got game. And Haller, who certainly holds his own in many of Connelly’s books, pulls out all the stops to save his half brother’s reputation. Even if he nearly gets Bosch killed in the process.
The Midnight Line – Lee Child
When Jack Reacher’s girlfriend, Michelle Chang, leaves him a note – “You’re like New York City. I love to visit, but I could never live there” – he knows it’s time to hit the road. Armed with just his toothbrush, he gets on the first bus heading west. At the second comfort stop in Rapid City, South Dakota, he wanders into a pawn shop and among the jumble of jewelry in a glass case, spies a West Point ring, class of 2005. Having also graduated from West Point, Reacher is determined to return the ring to its owner, obviously a woman, judging from its small size.
A former military cop, Reacher’s size and combat skills quickly knock down barriers trying to prevent him from following the trail that will lead to the ring’s owner. With some persuasion, the pawn shop owner gives up the name of the man who sold the ring. Jimmy Rat is a biker who believes his possé can take Reacher down. Bad idea. In a matter of minutes, Reacher levels all seven men. Rat not only gives up the seller’s name – Arthur Scorpio – but calls Scorpio to warn him that “Bigfoot” is coming after him.
Scorpio has been on police radar for quite some time. Rapid City Police Detective Gloria Nakamura regularly surveils the laundromat Scorpio owns. The fact that no one ever uses the facilities is a tip off that Scorpio is running some kind of illegal business. Also watching Scorpio is a retired FBI agent, Terry Barmall, now a private investigator who specializes in missing person cases. Is the woman Barmall is looking for the owner of the ring?
Reacher eventually joins forces with Barmall and the path leads them to uncover an illegal opioid operation. Child has done his homework, presenting the facts about this epidemic with clarity while also describing in painful terms who becomes addicted and why. It’s not always as clear cut as we would like to think.
Child’s Reacher is a fascinating character. He travels without a destination or a suitcase, yet always finds adventure and people who need his help. In The Midnight Line, Child goes to great lengths to describe Reacher’s physical attributes – his height (besides Bigfoot, his enemies compare him to the Hulk), and his hands – “his left fist…the size of a supermarket chicken.” I couldn’t help but feel Child is trying to distance the book Reacher from the movie Reacher played by the shorter and less threatening Tom Cruise, who longtime fans have never embraced. (The last film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, received lukewarm reviews and did poorly at the box office.) Chances are there won’t be a third film, but we can look forward to many more Reacher adventures from Child.
Two Kinds of Truth
The Midnight Line
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