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Friday, February 14, 2014

The Black Box. Michael Connelly. Orion Books (2012)

An enjoyable crime story with excellent plot mechanics and a deeply unsympathetic lead character. On the twentieth anniversary of the Los Angles riots of 1992 and unsolved cases are to be reviewed by the Open and Unsolved Squad of the LAPD. Detective Harry Bosch requests a specific case, the murder of a journalist, Anneke Jespersen, a case he was involved when it happened and is very unfinished business for him. Harry Bosch encounters bureaucratic resistance to his investigation, founded on solid bureaucratic reasons, and finds himself under investigation by the Internal Affairs division. This does not prevent him from pursuing the investigation and the story uncoils with very enjoyable twists and turns as the bigger picture slowly comes into focus. The reach of the past into the present is very well developed and the conclusion is forceful and satisfying.
The problem with the story is the lead character, Harry Bosch he is unsympathetic and fundamentally irritating. This would not be a problem is he was cast as an anti-hero, doing something worthwhile in spite of his general tendency to be unpleasant. Michael Connelly wants Harry Bosch to be a heroic hero, pursuing justice in the face of opposition from his rather duplicitous superiors and the perpetrators. Harry Bosch has heroic qualities, a tenacious sense of obligation to the victim to find those responsible and a strong competence as a police officer. None of which is enough to balance against the fact that in his ongoing interactions with everybody else Harry Bosch is a snot.
The plot mechanics are superb, the investigation is really well developed and the reveals are staged with smart timing and impact. The way that the murder is tracked through the chaos of the riots and leads to danger in the present is seamless and credible. The neat trick at the climax is a pleasure, a clever set up and play on the reader's expectations.
Entertaining but not engaging, worth a read for the smart plot.

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