Saturday, August 24, 2013

What we're reading: Harry Bosch on the case

Last weekend, after several disappointing reads in a row (both adult and YA), I decided to seek out a known quantity, so I went for the next in line of Michael Connelly's Detective Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch books, The Black Box. I'm really glad I did.

This was classic Harry Bosch. Some reviewers have complained about formula (the house in the canyon, the jazz, the restaurant name-dropping, the crotchety relationships with his partners and bosses), but I love all of that!

This one took us back to a moment all Angelenos remember: April 29, 1992 when the Rodney King police brutality verdict (the shocking acquittal) was delivered out in Simi Valley, and South Central erupted in violence. Chaos spread throughout the city, and in six days, 58 people died, 50 of them ruled murders.

In the book, Harry Bosch is on a homicide squad specially detailed to go out to murder scenes within the area of the riots, document the scenes as quickly as possible, and move on without incurring too much attention from rioters, looters, and others bent on destruction. A dead woman is discovered in an alley by some National Guard officers who are doing a sweep, so the logical assumption is that she was another victim of the rioters. Harry isn't sure that's so; there are some oddities about the murder he wants to pursue further. But he isn't allowed to work the case--it gets handed off to the Riot Crimes Task Force, and is never solved.

Twenty years later, Harry is working a current homicide that turns out to have a ballistics match to the same gun that killed the woman in 1992. He's determined to solve this cold case, now that he has a second chance, and he combs through all the detritus, looking for the "black box"--the one piece of evidence that will break open the case. This is Harry's specialty--following tiny clues, most of which lead nowhere; but where others would move on, Harry is dogged, tireless, dedicated, and stubborn. Most would have concluded random violence, but Harry believes there's nothing random about it, and that in fact there is a trail that leads from the woman's past right to the door of her killer--and Harry's going to find that person.

I figured out parts of this one sooner than I have in some of Connelly's books, but I didn't mind it at all, because the story was so skillfully woven that I enjoyed going along for the ride. This story was an important one for Connelly, for two reasons: He wrote his very first Harry Bosch book in 1992; and Connelly himself actually covered the riots as a reporter for the L.A. Times. I think those circumstances gave this book the little extra dose of reality that made it special.

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