A Chinese liquor-store owner, Mr Li, is shot by the thug who picks up his protection money. Hard-nosed LA cop Harry Bosch arrests the killer, but what appears a straightforward murder is something more.
Harry finds a link to the Rodney King riots and an incident in which a young policeman was granted sanctuary. As his life ebbed away, Li left a clue to his murderer's identity. Bosch follows it into a world that runs in sinister parallel with the LA universe he knows well: the lethal society of the triads.
Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer was the author's breakthrough book with general readers, but long-term fans were a touch sniffy about it. After all, they had already made friends with Connelly's hard-boiled detective Bosch during a series of pithy novels. The Vietnam vet-turned-LAPD cop was the most distinctive entry in the latter-day Chandler stakes, moving through an astringently realised City of Angels. Bosch, though, was absent from The Lincoln Lawyer. Bottom-feeding lawyer Mickey Haller was its memorably low-rent protagonist, and he returned in The Brass Verdict along with Harry, making a sparky double act.
Nine Dragons performs some radical surgery on the Bosch franchise. Connelly freights in a peripatetic international dimension, and returns Harry to his Vietnam mindset when events take a nasty personal turn. After the killing and arrest, Harry's daughter (in Hong Kong with her mother and the latter's Chinese lover) is kidnapped by the triads, and a desperate Harry takes the first plane to the Far East. He has his hands full, both with dangerous criminals and his conflicts with the local Asian Gang Unit.
Each new book adds another string to Connelly's bow, though Nine Dragons is a more straightforward adventure thriller than some recent work (despite Bosch's very personal involvement). It's none the worse for that. The globe-spanning element here expands the canvas, and there's an appearance by Connelly's other protagonist, sardonic Mickey Haller – plus some satisfying, out-of-the-blue narrative twists.