Desert Star (A Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch Novel)

Image of Desert Star (A Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch Novel)
Release Date: 
June 6, 2023
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“Michael Connelly remains at the top of his game with Desert Star, a haunting and absorbing story that’s simply impossible to put down.”

In Michael Connelly’s fifth installment in the Ballard and Bosch series, Renée is wearing an LAPD badge once again and has been given carte blanche to set up a new Open-Unsolved unit. Empowered to handpick her new team, she assembles a small group of investigators before reaching out to her first choice: Harry Bosch.

Bosch accepts her offer because it will give him another chance at a case that has haunted him over the years—the Gallagher Family murders. Certain that a man named Finbar McShane was responsible, Bosch had worked the case relentlessly without finding the evidence that would convict his suspect. Now, it would seem, he’ll have another chance.

Can Bosch, notoriously difficult to manage, play by Ballard’s rules as she juggles the political balls that go along with her new responsibilities? Can he work as a team member, pitching in on various open-unsolved cases, while still pursuing leads on the Gallagher Family investigation?

Michael Connelly remains at the top of his game with Desert Star, a haunting and absorbing story that’s simply impossible to put down.

He writes particularly well when dealing with unsolved murders, which bring out the grim determination and doggedness that we’ve grown to love from Bosch over the years.

Connelly’s choice of the desert star flower as the primary symbolic image of the novel is also compelling. Standing at the dump site in the desert where the family was buried, Bosch encounters a deputy from the county sheriff’s office who also worked on the case.

Plucking one of the flowers dotting the area, the deputy says, “‘Hard to believe something so beautiful can exist in this place. . . . And people say there is no God. You ask me, there’s God right there.’”

Perhaps feeling his age, Bosch nods. “He wasn’t convinced that it was God on earth, but he liked that.”

Also striking is Connelly’s presentation of the shelves of murder books Ballard has brought in to the new location of her unit:

Bosch “stepped into the aisle and walked slowly past the books, running the fingers of his left hand along the plastic bindings as he passed. Each one the story of a murder left unsolved. This was hallowed ground to Bosch. The library of lost souls.”

In other ways, though, Connelly seems a little tentative. Renée Ballard is a bit of a hard sell as a supervisor, making up arbitrary rules to assert her newfound authority and generally behaving out of character.

As well, while Ballard has no choice but to give Bosch his usual long leash as they repair their damaged relationship, the games she plays with him behind the backs of the other team members in order to permit him to break her new rules are inconsistent and troublesome, at odds with her desire to become a professional team leader.

As far as secondary characters are concerned, Connelly makes an excellent decision to include Colleen Hatteras in the unit. Brought in as a civilian with expertise in investigative genetic genealogy (IGG), Hatteras represents an innovative new technique in murder investigation that recently became famous when it brought about the arrest of the notorious Golden State Killer.

However, when he lumps psychic empathy into her character, he confuses the situation. The most we get out of Hatteras from this point on is the resistance of conventional police detectives to that sort of thing. As a result, the entire subject of IGG and the role it can play in future investigations is buried as Hatteras is marginalized by Bosch and Ballard for her touchy-feely creepiness.

Desert Star is a terrific read, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Michael Connelly. Where will he take us from here? Has Harry Bosch finally run the course, and will the future solely belong to Renée Ballard?

His millions of fans can’t wait to find out.