Oline Cogdill

altA title is just a title, right? A character's name is just a name, right?


The best writers use a book title or a character's name to give a hint about a plot or the nature of a character.

Perhaps this allusion isn't evident right away in a novel, but it will rise up eventually.

Take Michael Connelly, the best-selling author who I believe is one of the best—and most consistent – living crime writers.

Each title of his 24 novels—17 of which are part of the Harry Bosch series—has multiple uses. This is especially true in his latest novel, The Drop.

The Drop has many definition in this fine novel. Here's a link to my review.

Without giving away any spoilers, The Drop means a fall from a high-rise hotel; a retirement program (Deferred Retirement Option Plan); a chokehold; a child lost to the system and, as an adult, lost to society; a case dropped by the cops and even the end of a friendship. It also can mean the end of a period of adjustment for two partners and a new beginning.

A few other meanings of The Drop crop up in Connelly's novel, but that would mean giving away spoilers and that is something we do not do.

Most, if not all, of Connelly's titles have multi-uses.

In Connelly's 2010 novel The Reversal, each character undergoes a reversal, from a convicted murderer’s case that jumpstarts the plot to a successful defense attorney and a seasoned detective working in an uneasy alliance against the grain of their jobs. But the most intriguing reversal is personal—how a loner learns to be a father and two half-brothers discover the meaning of family.

Authors, of course, have used titles and character names to illustrate what is beneath the surface for centuries.

I credit Theresa Harbin, my English teacher when I was a freshman at St. Henry's High School, with showingme the deeper meaning of literature and showing me how to read on a deeper meaning.

Miss Harbin showed me how in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, each name gave an insight to aspects of a character.

Chillingworth was cold in the heart; Hester Prynne was basically a prim and proper lady who gave into passion; Dimmesdale was a doomed man, unable to allow himself pleasure or forgiveness; and, of course, Pearl was indeed a treasure.

Of course now, I wonder how I ever got through The Scarlet Letter, but Miss Harbin's lessons never left me.

And I am sure Miss Harbin, now Theresa Lebeiko, made the same impact on her future students.

So when you read Connelly's fine The Drop, savor the complex plot, the complicated characters and the vivid Los Angeles setting, and remember that each of these aspects has at least one or more meanings.