`The Scarecrow` is great Connelly

Updated: Jun 06, 2009, 08:35 AM IST

London, June 06: Two creepy serial killers stalk the landscape in this new thriller by Michael Connelly. There`s a psychopathic geek who sniffs out his leggy victims on the Internet. And there`s the Internet itself, making a mockery of the right to privacy and gradually strangling the life out of the nation`s newspapers.

Jack McEvoy, hero of the tale, is a police reporter for The Los Angeles Times, the same job Connelly held before quitting to write novels full time.

Jack can`t do much to save newspapers; in fact, he`s just been given two weeks notice, part of the withering paper`s latest "force reduction." But if he can track down the psychopath, maybe he can leave in a blaze of glory.

We`ve met Jack before, when he was a Denver reporter on the trail of a different serial killer in "The Poet" (1996). Back then, he was working for The Rocky Mountain News, a paper that, in both the novel and in fact, went under earlier this year.

Joining Jack in Los Angeles is another familiar face, FBI agent Rachel Walling, who played a key role in "The Poet" and returned as the love interest in "The Narrows" (2004), part of Connelly`s fine series about L.A. police detective Harry Bosch.

Together, Jack and Rachel are a formidable team; but the psychopath, a computer expert named Wesley Carver, is a worthy adversary. Hacking into the newspaper`s computer system, he watches Jack`s every move. And when Jack gets too close, Carver isolates and hobbles him by canceling his credit cards, emptying his bank account and shutting off his cell phone service.

It`s not lost on Jack that the killer is using the same tools that are destroying the business he loves. It`s not lost on the reader that if newspapers disappear, so may investigative reporters like Jack. Not surprisingly, Connelly does a fine job of capturing the cynical atmosphere of the newsroom during these dark days.

"The Scarecrow" is a dire warning about the dangers of electronic snooping and a reminder of what we will lose if newspapers continue to fail. And it is a page-turning thriller — cleverly plotted, fast-paced and crisply written.

As Connelly puts it, he set out to write "a thriller first and a torch song for the newspaper business second."

The book works superbly on both levels, surpassing "The Poet" as his finest.

Bureau Report