Beware the Black Ice!

8:53 PM 6 NOVEMBER 2019

Notwithstanding the glamour normally associated with Hollywood, Los Angeles and the advertising hype surrounding California more widely, the unvarnished description favoured by Michael Connelly remains curiously fascinating. Whilst Harry Bosch can look down from his hillside home and appreciate the distant grandeur of tinsel town, through his main character, the author also takes us onto the streets for a microscopic probe of an altogether darker and dangerous place. A place where drug dealers seek to dominate a lucrative market and casual violence and corruption are simply a means to an end.


‘Black ice’ is the latest export from Mexico, a mixture of coke, heroin and PCP and its manufacturers are aiming to displace the hitherto dominant Hawaiian variant. However, when the body of a police sergeant from the narcotics squad is found in a cheap hotel with gunshot wounds to his face, Bosch isn’t necessarily buying the suicide explanation, still less the desire of the LAPD hierarchy for a sanitising investigation that potentially draws a veil over officers that may have ‘crossed over’.


For me, the abiding interest of the book concerns the respective journeys of its key characters and the contrasting outcomes. The contrast too between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of LA, but also cross border, in the portrayal of Calexico and Mexicali, towns with shared origins, but with very different prospects for their respective inhabitants, located on either side of the US/Mexico border. In a sense, part of the fascination with Bosch and his investigations certainly lies in his seamless traversing of these different worlds and the insight he offers to the voyeuristic reader, peering into unfamiliar places and lives.


Once again, in this novel, the rancorous detective is simultaneously fending off the internal politics of the LAPD that threatens to fetter his ability to root out the truth. But, in a departure from the lone, maverick investigator narrative, we also learn something about how Bosch’s work seeps into his private life. That he should be attracted to the widow of the murdered colleague and the attendant complex challenges, is just somehow very Bosch. And yet, it is the latent complexity of the character and his slow reveal that I suspect deliberately seeks to intrigue the reader, every bit as much as the capacity of Harry Bosch to solve the immediate puzzle, the arc of the detective’s private story, peeled like layers of an onion, whilst straddling episodic criminal investigations. For example, in this novel, Bosch recalls his only meeting with his dying father, but also signals the prospect of siblings and the discovery of a family, albeit they were unaware of his existence.


Clearly the author is very adept at meshing such detail, both in terms of the case at hand, as well as the broader canvas of his creation’s life. But, Connelly also weaves into his writing interesting asides, such as the existence of the border towns (both are real) and an ‘insect eradication programme’, which in this case is used as a front for the infiltration of ‘black ice’. Such details seem to be a feature of the series so far, but they keep the storytelling fresh and interesting and the same is true of the main character. Bosch is familiar with the violence and deprivation that characterize survival on the streets and the lure of gang culture and though he doesn’t excuse it, he understands and deplores the exploitation of the desperate, through the greed of the strong. His mission of holding those who misappropriate the lives of others to account is inherently satisfying, with a moral dimension, but it is focused unashamedly on the perpetrators rather than the unfortunate victims. And so to book three…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Out of the Blue and into the Black”

10:17 PM 29 SEPTEMBER 2019

Following my review of book twenty something in the Harry Bosch series (“Two Kinds of Truth”) and the encouragement of several Michael Connelly fans, I have back-tracked to where it all began. “The Black Echo”, published in 1992, marks the introduction of the eponymous detective and is testament to the journey undergone by the main character and the polishing of the author’s style over the intervening years. Connelly is certainly prolific in his output (the latest in the series, number twenty four, is due out today), so I’m keen to understand what is it fuels such longevity and keeps the novels fresh for his legions of readers?

Crime, of course, remains the most popular form of fiction and the author’s brand of punchy, contemporary, thrilling suspense is a dynamic page-turner. Still, Hieronymus Bosch is no Hercule Poirot, or Endeavour Morse (save for bearing an extraordinary name), relying solely on his cerebral gifts. Rather, at least in this first novel, he is also an action hero, more in the mould of Dirk Pitt, a maverick, determined, driven even. Leastways, our introduction to Bosch lays the foundation of a backstory that has the reader immediately curious, about a man of some implied depth, cleverly told through the FBI file held by his temporary partner for this instalment, Special Agent Eleanor Wish and the involvement of Billy Meadows, a former fellow ‘tunnel rat’ in Vietnam.


The horror and brutality of subterranean warfare has echoes of other battles (for example, see the WW1 iteration described by Sebastian Faulks in ‘Birdsong’), but the ability of such experience to shape an individual is surely not in doubt. Bosch the loner, scarred by conflict, yet as a consequence, perversely equipped for the ‘war against crime’. A round peg in the square hole that is the LAPD, he is destined to rail against the system and hold himself accountable to a personal set of values and a conscience that confers far greater integrity. Just as well, since the vultures from Internal Affairs circle, convinced that Bosch is dirty and going down.


A body – it’s a familiar opening to a crime story, but make the victim less random and the cause not so clear-cut as a simple overdose and we’re in business. Create a link to an unsolved safety deposit box robbery, perplexing national agencies – a tunnelling job, perpetrated while Bosch was suspended and the stage is set.


Curiously Bosch has little in common with colleagues and has a ‘marmite’ personality, untroubled by what others think of him. But, he also has a formidable network borne of long service and a reputation for getting results, a trait begrudgingly acknowledged even by his superiors. However, an unexpected secondment to the broader FBI investigation sees Bosch operating in an unfamiliar agency with a new set of rules. It doesn’t suit him better, though in Eleanor Wish he finds a partner and useful ally.


As the evidence mounts and connects to Washington and the chaotic withdrawal of people and wealth from Saigon at the end of the war, it is clear that powerful forces are at work and disrupting the investigation with impunity, possibly from the inside. For once, the fact that Bosch trusts no one is a positive asset. In poignant scenes evincing Karmic symmetry, the detective is fighting for his life in a tunnel and looking for a final clue on the Vietnam memorial, seemingly unable to unshackle himself from the legacy of a futile, dark past.


I really enjoyed this book and I can understand the fascination cultivated among readers for the troubled and damaged soul that is Harry Bosch. I suspect in this opening novel we have glimpsed just the tip of the iceberg created by Michael Connelly and in common with the best of fictional sleuths, it is in the flawed character of Bosch that some of the most interesting aspects of the human experience may be revealed. Book 2 awaits!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sequels can work…

7:39 PM 28 AUGUST 2016

A return to Jake Brigance as a hero of the courtroom marks the continuance of John Grisham’ s first novel. JB now in his thirties has not enjoyed the take-off of his career that might have been anticipated following his triumph in “A Time to Kill”, set three years previously, but his brand of delivering legal representation with an ethical edge remains thoroughly compelling. Of course, the latest tale is dependent upon a scenario which duly presents a moral maze, through which JB must navigate on behalf of a victim of circumstance, facing high calibre legal gladiators. As always, Grisham confirms his standing as a consummate story-teller and his pacing of the plot translates into a strong ‘page-turner’. The book reinforced my relish of the wise Judge Atlee, who wields power on the Ford County bench, mentor of JB, but unashamed arbiter of fair play, at times based on an apparently instinctive, ‘common sense’ view of justice. There are a couple of mechanisms used to maintain the pitch of impending failure, but nonetheless, the resolution of the court case is satisfying and confirmed my standing as a fan of
Grisham’ s skill as a writer of thrilling fiction.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521162726

Rating: 4 out of 5.