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book review

Michael ConnellyHandout

Oh well, just another superb, ambitious murder mystery from one of the best writers in the business, featuring perhaps the best fictional detective in crime fiction. It has been 20 years since Michael Connelly published his first novel, The Black Echo, and in all that time he hasn't put a foot wrong. The Black Box keeps his streak alive.

The novel opens with a prologue titled Snow White. In the summer of 1992, following the acquittal of four police officers charged with beating black motorist Rodney King, Los Angeles was burning and Los Angelenos were dying. The rioting took more than 50 lives.

Homicide detective Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch and his partner, Jerry Edgar, were seconded from Hollywood Division to South Central, where the police were stretched to the limit. Bosch and Edgar were a roving homicide team, turning up wherever and whenever a body was found – which was frequently – and doing whatever they could by way of rudimentary investigation, while being guarded by shotgun-toting uniformed cops and National Guardsmen.

One of the many cases they caught was the murder of Anneke Jespersen, a freelance Danish journalist shot dead in an alley in a part of the city most torn by violence and looting. The case seemed straightforward – a reporter in the wrong place at the wrong time – but, like so many other deaths in that troubled summer, it was never closed. It was assigned to someone else and Bosch and Edgar moved on, though Bosch could never forget it.

Twenty years later, Bosch is part of L.A.'s Open-Unsolved Unit, investigating cold cases, when police brass let it be known that they want the Jespersen case reopened, and they want it solved. It would look good on the force to conclude some cases that came up during the riots, and Jespersen was … well, an attractive blonde, a foreign national and a reporter.

Bosch begins looking for the case's "black box," the one piece of evidence that will make clear the rest of the clues. The discovery that the gun that shot the journalist had been used in other crimes, years later, provides the lead that finally gets the case moving.

Furthermore, ballistics testing suggests that Jesperson's death was not random, but up close and personal. The case expands outward from L.A., to the California hinterland and to foreign lands, and becomes increasingly murky and complex. It's impossible to say more without compromising the plot, so let's leave it at that.

As usual, Connelly gives us a genuine-feeling sense of the politics of policing in L.A., including the interaction of the cops on the job, especially Bosch's former lovers in other police organizations, who always seem willing to lend him a hand, or a contact, or a bit of information.

As well, the author devotes no little space to the developing relationship between Bosch and his teenaged daughter, Maddie, who is becoming a fully fleshed character in her own right. Could he be grooming her to succeed her father on the force, à la Kurt Wallender's daughter Linda? Stay tuned.

H.J. Kirchhoff is The Globe and Mail's deputy Books editor.


It's now 20 years in for Harry Bosch, and 18 books. Do you ever tire of him?

No. There's a shifting of challenges with each book and writing them is more difficult because I need to find more in Harry. He can't simply stay static. I don't know why I'm so lucky with him. I write one book a year and often find I can't quite finish a new character. But Harry's always a no-brainer. After two million words, there's a lot more to say

Would you ever consider killing him off, as did Agatha Christie with Poirot and Colin Dexter with Morse, and Conan Doyle tried to do with Holmes?

If you had asked me five books ago, I would probably have said yes. But I've grown very fond of Harry, largely because of his difficulties in living. And because I age him in real time, I'm sending him toward some kind of fulfillment, toward the light. I'd hate myself if I killed him.

Bosch is, shall we say, focused and intense. Do you ever regret not investing him with the quirks so frequent these days, say a taste for vodka tonic, Zane Grey novels or shark fishing?

I do sometimes think that; it would have added another dimension. At the same time, it would have distracted from the dourness of his character.

I hear rumours of a Bosch TV series. What can you tell us?

Everything in Hollywood is a big if. But the series is more than in development. We have a partnership with production company and a showrunner named Eric Overmyer, a writer and producer who's worked on Law & Order, The Wire and Treme. There have been a couple of movies made from my books, including The Lincoln Lawyer, but I thought a long-form TV series seemed like the way to go since there is so much Harry Bosch out there already, and cable TV is producing great work.

Got anybody in mind to play Harry?

His image is solidly set to me after 20 years. It's best they find someone not really known to audience. I was watching one of those vampire movies with my daughter – I can never remember its name, oh, one of the Twilight series; an actor named Billy Burke playing the cop-father was very much the way I pictured young Harry Bosch.

Which writers, not necessarily restricted to crime writers, have most influenced you, and has that changed at all over the years?

The big three for me, and that hasn't changed, are Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Joseph Wambaugh. But I also get a lot from contemporaries such as George Pelecanos and James Lee Burke.

I hear you live near the notorious socialite Jill Kelley in Tampa. Any special insights into the Petraeus scandal? Sightings of military brass?

Kelley is a block from me, and the media trucks and journalists and other hoopla reminded me of the O.J. Simpson trial when I was still in Los Angeles.

Speaking of L.A., The Black Box begins in 1992, with the Rodney King riots. Were you involved?

For the first two nights, I was covering it. I went into it expecting a guilty verdict. The second night I was on Hollywood Boulevard, watching people burning and looting, including Frederick's of Hollywood; they were looting women's lingerie! The Scientologists stood outside their church holding broomsticks to fend off looters. It was bizarre, amde more so since the next day I flew off to Miami for a wedding.

Martin Levin