Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #13: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

Connelly once again hits it out of the park with his latest book in the Harry Bosch series. This American master of the so-called “police procedural” genre doesn’t just give us exciting well-plotted mysteries to solve, but familiar settings, living breathing characters, and a hero whose all-too-human flaws are matched by his “salt of the earth” morality. We want to believe that there is a Harry Bosch out there, ready to protect and serve.

Those of us aficionados of Hieronymous (“Harry”) Bosch who have been advantaged to watch him develop from a rambunctious cop to a seasoned homicide detective, now get to see him evolved once again. Having passed the usual cop retirement age, a 60-something Harry has opted to join a program that allows him to continue with the LAPD on a five-year contract, but without some of the protections that he previously had on the job. And given his propensity for doing his own thing and damn the consequences—and the higher ups who invariably try to stand in his way—he’s going to miss that protection.

Harry is assigned to clearing cold homicide cases and he’s good at it. Unfortunately, his new department head is a political creature who answers to polls and the media, and not so much to his own conscience. As one can imagine, a clash with Harry is inevitable. Twenty years earlier, Bosch had done the initial investigation of one of many murders committed in Los Angeles during the post-Rodney King riots, and had always regretted his inability to solve the inexplicable execution of a young white Danish woman in the midst of a black ghetto riot. In fact, she was a journalist, but all her cameras, film, notes—both on her person and in her hotel room—had gone missing, and something didn’t sit right with Harry’s gut. Two decades later, her “cold” homicide crosses his desk and this time, out of his deeply-rooted commitment to “speak for the dead,” Harry determines to solve it.

With his usual methodical but intuitive method, Harry begins to piece together some evidence, but the solving of a white homicide while hundreds of blacks homicides from the riots remain unsolved is viewed as politically incorrect by the higher ups on this 20th anniversary of the riots, and a nervous police chief warns Harry to delay, or even shelve, the investigation. Harry being warned off a case is like a red flag to a bull, and Harry plunges full steam ahead despite a department investigation of his behavior initiated by his vindictive superior, an investigation which could get him washed out of the force.

Harry’s relationships with his teenaged daughter and with his newest lady friend are tangential to the plot, but Connelly uses these to help clue us in to Harry’s state of mind by revealing his lingering self-doubts about both his single parenting skills, and his worth as a love interest.  Harry’s love for the daughter he never knew he had is particularly beautifully rendered, and her desire to follow in his footsteps and become a cop is a source of both tremendous pride and tremendous nervousness for our hero.

Nonetheless, Connelly devotes his plot primarily to the solving of this single murder, which grows more complex as evidence accumulates pointing to gun smuggling, Desert Storm war crimes, multiple homicides, and more. Bosch does an end-run around all the department eyes on him by taking “vacation” time to pursue his leads, and a cluster of suspects, who prove a lot more deadly than Bosch is prepared for. He, of course, survives and the bad guys get theirs. The victim gets her due, and Harry’s fans can breathe a sigh of relief that Harry is still on the job and kicking ass.

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