Monday, December 17, 2012

Review of The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Orion, 2012)

Harry Bosch is a detective with the open-unsolved unit of the LAPD.  Twenty years earlier he’d been a homicide detective investigating suspicious deaths as the 1992 LA riots unfolded.  One such case was the murder of a Danish photojournalist who’d been on vacation in the US and who'd decided to combine business with pleasure; for her trouble she’d been lured into an alley and shot.  When the riots were concluded the case was given to a different division and Bosch lost sight of it.  As the anniversary of the riots approaches the LAPD has decided to take a fresh look at its unsolved murders and Bosch gets another chance to solve the case.  Running the one solid clue he has - a shell casing - through ballistics reveals that the gun used to fire the fatal bullet has subsequently been used in three other murders.  That’s not quite enough to open up the black box to reveal the killer, but it provides an initial trail.  A trail that his bosses don’t seem keen for him to follow. 

As police procedurals go, The Black Box was pretty average (especially compared to some of Connelly’s earlier books in the series).  The focus of the plot is interesting, but it felt a little too linear and straightforward, lacking in subplot (beyond his usual run in with his bosses and internal affairs), layers and twists or turns - Harry unearths all the clues, but doesn’t seem to have to work that hard to locate them.  The ending in particular felt shallow, rushed and lacked credibility in parts, using weak plot devices to create a bloody climax. After 18 outings (I've read 15 of them), Harry seemed somewhat tired and drawn, a shadow of his former self trapped in a cycle of endlessly reliving his modus operandi as a solo, maverick cop who bends rules and annoys his superiors whilst unpicking puzzles lesser men would fail to solve.  For the series to have new life my feeling is the stories are going to need to become more complex, layered and believable, and some of the secondary characters are going to have to come to the fore and there be sustained interaction.  I’m sure there are plenty of Connelly fans out there who will disagree, but whilst The Black Box was entertaining enough way to spend a few hours, Connelly is capable of spinning more gripping and engrossing tales (as evidenced by his back catalogue).

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