Bosch Drinks Deeply from the Poisoned Chalice!

10:00 AM 1 MARCH 2020

Howard Elias was a high-profile, but contentious Los Angeles lawyer, whose stock-in-trade was suing the LAPD. He only filed in the federal court and typically under the civil human rights codes, whereupon his skilled use of social media also rubbed salt into the open wound of racial tension that scarred the city. Elias was reviled by police, revered by those he represented, but when he is gunned down on ‘Angels Flight’ (a historic inclined railway and downtown landmark), the authorities are immediately fearful of a potential backlash and the possibility of a return to the violent racial riots of 1992. Realizing that many would believe the murder was perpetrated by the police and accordingly be mistrustful of their investigation, it falls to Deputy Chief Irving to hand this poisoned chalice to Detective Harry Bosch and his team. It’s a decision that carries risk. In such a politically-charged atmosphere, Bosch, Edgar and Rider know that their selection is a cynical nod to ethnic diversity, but they’re also capable investigators, with integrity and will demand that the chips fall where they may, despite attempts to stifle their efforts by the inclusion of Internal Affairs and the FBI.

Indeed, there are distractions aplenty for Bosch in this sixth book in the series, as his short-lived marriage to Eleanor Wish is in melt-down, his path is crossed once more by arch antagonist from the IAD, John ‘Sustained’ Chastain (see ‘The Black Ice’ and ‘Trunk Music’) and a succession of barriers arise, including a leak from within the department, barring his way to the truth. Readers/fans are, of course, familiar with the irreverent attitude of Bosch to the political calculations of his bosses and his resilience at being repeatedly thrown under the bus of investigations with the capacity to combust spectacularly, but he is also unerringly loyal to his team colleagues (past and present) and is always willing to take a hit for them.

In this powerful story, the plot is so much more than the obvious crime of murder and is as much about the hidden network of associates connected to the late Mr Elias and a swirl of cases,causes and effects, past and present, which continue to keep a fatal momentum of their own. In the impending ‘Black Warrior’ court case, Elias was again confidently primed to expose the depth of corrupt police behaviour and the inept nature of another flawed investigation by the LAPD. With the rhetoric of charismatic preacher Reverend Tuggins fanning the flames of a smouldering sense of injustice, in sections of the community, Bosch needs to solve the murder and prevent a potential miscarriage of justice, which could ignite the whole tinder box. Meanwhile, the book also draws into view those characters with politicized appointments tasked with fronting a system of justice that is seen to be good enough and must spin the unpalatable truth in ways that Bosch understands, yet despises.

Whilst the detective’s perspective of what’s right is laudably heroic to the reader, the body count that follows is high and I do wonder at the burden on his conscience moving forward. Still, Conelly also weaves lighter moments into his book, such as the poster advertising Clint Eastwood’s film “Blood Work” (a rather droll reference to his earlier title, wherein reality and fiction are neatly combined). In any event, I am compelled onward to “A Darkness More Than Night” (Book 7 in the series), with a real spring of 4 star satisfaction in my step.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Morse bows out…

9:23 AM 25 AUGUST 2017

The final book (13/13), in the series of crime novels featuring Chief Inspector Morse and a bravura performance from the great detective (and his creator), on which to bring down the curtain. For all his foibles and personality flaws, the irascible Morse stands tall among the pantheon of fictional sleuths and in spite of deteriorating health, he remains the best that Thames Valley CID can put in the field. And, in this tale, a particular focus is shone on the respective relationships between Morse, DS Lewis and Chief Superintendent Strange, which only adds to the feeling of a finale.


The unsolved murder of nurse, Yvonne Harrison, the previous year is a source of bitter regret for Strange and with his retirement looming, he would dearly like to leave a clean slate. However, notwithstanding the determined coercion of his superior officer, Morse is reluctant to take the case, to the point of outright insubordination. Lewis, suspecting that Morse perhaps had an historic entanglement with the victim, gets the re-opened investigation underway, but finds Morse popping up ‘unofficially’, usually ahead of his own inquiries.


Between the family members (husband, daughter, son), a series of lovers and the closed ranks of the local village, the list of suspects is lengthy. However, it is gratifying to see Lewis, unaccustomed to leading proceedings, take up the mantle, as the continued deterioration in Morse’s health hampers his involvement.


Reflections from each of the policemen are also poignant. For example, Lewis observes that “his own service in the CID had been enriched immeasurably because of his close association, over so many years now, with his curmudgeonly, miserly, oddly vulnerable chief”. In his turn, Morse takes to writing down his latest thoughts on the case, almost as a premonition or at least an insurance against his unpredictable health concerns. In the event, the case is chased to an elaborate conclusion, with the author twisting and turning to the last, but the loss of Morse, by comparison, overshadows a rather mundane and tawdry outcome.


For a brief moment, even Lewis has cause to consider the ethics of his hero’s apparent actions, but happily Morse’s reputation for authentic leadership emerges untainted. Moreover, it may speak volumes that as a reader, I also mourn his passing. Still, while television indulges in imagined sequels and prequels, the series of books crafted by Colin Dexter remains the undisputed origin of a truly exceptional literary character. May they both rest in peace.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

An Empathetic Portrait

8:34 PM 28 FEBRUARY 2017

The musings of Alan Bennett, based on his observations of people and his experience of life in general, are almost guaranteed to draw a smile from even the most world-weary. As one reads his diarised account of life after the eccentric Miss Shepherd had moved her clapped-out van into his front garden…..and then stayed for fifteen years, it is hard not to be touched by a mixture of humour and pathos, which is both funny and moving in equal measure. 

So improbable is the bizarre sequence of events that ‘you couldn’t make it up’ and the knowledge that Bennett is recounting ‘real life’ somehow adds to the riveting nature of the book. Though now a ‘major motion picture’ starring Dame Maggie Smith, as I read, I could frequently ‘hear’ Bennett’s distinctive northern, nasally voice, wanting to remain compassionate, but nonplussed by the chaotic and seemingly irrational choices made by his visitor. Yet, it is hard not to have more than a sneaking regard for the enigmatic Miss Shepherd. Though seemingly destined to persistently rail against conforming to social norms, Miss Shepherd is nonetheless like an iceberg, with only a small fraction of herself showing above the community waterline. Indeed, perhaps it was the prospect of hidden depths, which so intrigued the author.

Still, we can also applaud Mr Bennett for his very uncommon response, in the circumstances, which has permitted a tender, yet unsentimental portrait of a  fascinating human being. Since, Miss Shepherd could potentially be any one of us, Bennett also manages to make a powerful case for tolerance and an acceptance of difference. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, there is perhaps an argument here suggesting that same village may also foster a dignified end of life for our elders.

By including an epilogue, the author also provided a thoughtful conclusion, which deftly answered some of the questions arising about Miss Shepherd’s past. This was my first foray into the written work of Alan Bennett, but from this example, it is easy to see why he is regarded by many as a national treasure. I look forward to more dipping into a substantial body of work.

Rating: 4 out of 5.