Michael Connelly originally published The Overlook as a serialized novella in 16 parts, and though the text has been expanded for the hardcover edition, it still feels abbreviated. Running only 225 pages—about a third less than the average Connelly mystery—The Overlook also ends abruptly, as soon as the crime is solved and the collateral damage assessed. Connelly has been writing faster of late, turning out a new novel roughly every 10 months over the last five years, and his work has lost some of the polish and nuance it showed a decade ago, when books like The Poet made him seem like our new policier laureate.
But maybe he's stepped up the pace because there's something he's burning to say. From the start, Connelly has made his mysteries as much about the justice-defying law-enforcement bureaucracy as about smart cops tracking smart crooks. In The Overlook, Connelly's popular LAPD detective hero Harry Bosch catches a case that also involves the FBI (and his ex-lover, agent Rachel Walling), as well as various local and national offices of homeland security. A physicist with access to cesium has been murdered, and a caseload of the highly radioactive element—enough to set off a dirty bomb that could close off some unlucky Los Angeles neighborhood for 300 years—has gone missing. Bosch intends to work the murder while Walling and company chase the cesium, but Bosch quickly finds that the FBI has commandeered every witness and piece of evidence he needs.
The Overlook's title refers to a scenic L.A. drive, just over the Mulholland Dam, where the inciting corpse is found. But the title may have a couple of other meanings too. It could also refer the clue that everyone but Bosch misses in their haste to find the cesium. Or to the multiple supervisors that watch everything Bosch does, and put checks on his initiative. During the course of this investigation, brisk as it is, Connelly still finds time for some of his telltale observation: noting the way a kidnap victim's numb fingers have trouble holding onto a bedsheet, and how the celebrities who live near the Mulholland overlook tend to be as desperate as any of their stalkers. But mostly, The Overlook is the latest chapter in Connelly's ongoing epic of early 21st-century inertia, as terror threats cause an already hidebound justice system to practically congeal.