Superstar crime fiction writers invariably slide downwards. Even the redoubtable James Lee Burke, for so long my favorite writer in any genre, became a self pastiche. Michael Connelly has always been the exception, his nearly two dozen Harry Bosch novels all perfectly plotted, suffused with characterization, and stylishly penned. Throw in the marvelous Mickey Haller books and it is no wonder that I always snap up the annual (or more frequent!) Connelly treat. “The Dark Hours” is the fourth outing for Renee Ballard, a Los Angeles detective of relentless activity and purpose, seemingly without higher ambitions, who is smart and expedient. The presence of Bosch as her partner/mentor enhanced the previous two Ballard outings. In The Dark Hours, Ballard takes on a New Years Eve killing of mystifying opaqueness while tracking two savage rapists. The author’s command of plot is as masterful as ever, making for an easy armchair read, but for the first time, I found myself thinking, “too much plot, where are the humans?” If you’re a Connelly fan, snap up The Dark Hours. If you’re a general crimmy fan, go back and read the Bosch classics.