The Scarecrow opens as Jack McEvoy, a solid reporter for the LA Times, is given two weeks’ notice – he’s a victim of the death-by-internet of the US newspaper industry and of the decline of the global economy. Rather than go quietly, he decides the best way to show his corporate bosses that they were wrong to dismiss him is to write a fantastic story. And, as luck would have it, the one he has just finished—an apparently routine case in which a black teenager has confessed to killing a white, drug-addicted stripper and leaving her body abandoned in the trunk of a car — has a little sting in its tail. The boy’s grandmother calls Jack, telling him that the police have fixed up the conviction, and that the boy never confessed to the killing.
Jack decides to investigate, and soon becomes convinced that the woman is right. At the same time, his glamorous young partner and to-be-replacement, the multitasking and over-ambitious Angela, does some Internet searching and comes up not only with a previous case with an identical modus operandi, but also makes some dark online discoveries of her own.
Before he knows it, Jack is facing what starts out as a puzzling inconvenience, rapidly escalating into danger. He calls an old friend, FBI agent Rachel Walling, in the hope that he can convince her to help. Soon, Rachel is caught up in events, cast off by the FBI and struggling to discern what’s behind Jack’s sudden plunge of fortune. Then, the two of them make a chilling discovery.
I won’t reveal any more of the plot here: the book just goes on and on at a confident and inventive pace, never slackening off into predictability, never stepping over the mark into unnecessary contrivance; always bang-up-to-the-minute and laden with constant tension as Jack and Rachel try to stay one step ahead by out-thinking their unknown enemy. At the same time, the book is full of details of journalistic procedures, inter-colleague dynamics, internet technology, FBI protocols – never slowing the pace but cumulatively creating an atmosphere of complete believability. The ending is less interesting than the rest of the book, but that didn't bother me too much, although I smiled at the fact that Jack's professionalism comes through for him. What I also like is the way the author has set things up so that any of his four main characters (Jack and Rachel, together with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, who are both alluded to in The Scarecrow although not (if memory serves) by name) could participate in a future novel in one of several ways. Intriguing!
If you haven’t read a Michael Connelly novel before, you could start with this one, or you could start with The Poet, the only previous book in which Jack is the main character (Rachel has appeared in several other novels, though). But perhaps the best thing to do is to begin with the first, The Black Echo, and make your way through the whole catalogue. I don't think you would regret it.
If you are a keen Connelly fan, you might like to keep a note of the websites mentioned in The Scarecrow. I haven’t tried this myself, but the author told us at the recent CrimeFest meeting that he has registered these domain names and has included some content on these sites relevant to the novel. There is also a three-part video, Conflict of Interest, on the author’s website which apparently tells the story of what Rachel is doing up to the point where she makes her first appearance in the novel – in response to a phone call from Jack. (Apparently the video story ends with this same phone call.) There are also video clips of scenes in and surrounding some of the author's other novels at the same web page.
Review first posted at Petrona, May 2009.