Notwithstanding the glamour normally associated with Hollywood, Los Angeles and the advertising hype surrounding California more widely, the unvarnished description favoured by Michael Connelly remains curiously fascinating. Whilst Harry Bosch can look down from his hillside home and appreciate the distant grandeur of tinsel town, through his main character, the author also takes us onto the streets for a microscopic probe of an altogether darker and dangerous place. A place where drug dealers seek to dominate a lucrative market and casual violence and corruption are simply a means to an end.
‘Black ice’ is the latest export from Mexico, a mixture of coke, heroin and PCP and its manufacturers are aiming to displace the hitherto dominant Hawaiian variant. However, when the body of a police sergeant from the narcotics squad is found in a cheap hotel with gunshot wounds to his face, Bosch isn’t necessarily buying the suicide explanation, still less the desire of the LAPD hierarchy for a sanitising investigation that potentially draws a veil over officers that may have ‘crossed over’.
For me, the abiding interest of the book concerns the respective journeys of its key characters and the contrasting outcomes. The contrast too between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of LA, but also cross border, in the portrayal of Calexico and Mexicali, towns with shared origins, but with very different prospects for their respective inhabitants, located on either side of the US/Mexico border. In a sense, part of the fascination with Bosch and his investigations certainly lies in his seamless traversing of these different worlds and the insight he offers to the voyeuristic reader, peering into unfamiliar places and lives.
Once again, in this novel, the rancorous detective is simultaneously fending off the internal politics of the LAPD that threatens to fetter his ability to root out the truth. But, in a departure from the lone, maverick investigator narrative, we also learn something about how Bosch’s work seeps into his private life. That he should be attracted to the widow of the murdered colleague and the attendant complex challenges, is just somehow very Bosch. And yet, it is the latent complexity of the character and his slow reveal that I suspect deliberately seeks to intrigue the reader, every bit as much as the capacity of Harry Bosch to solve the immediate puzzle, the arc of the detective’s private story, peeled like layers of an onion, whilst straddling episodic criminal investigations. For example, in this novel, Bosch recalls his only meeting with his dying father, but also signals the prospect of siblings and the discovery of a family, albeit they were unaware of his existence.
Clearly the author is very adept at meshing such detail, both in terms of the case at hand, as well as the broader canvas of his creation’s life. But, Connelly also weaves into his writing interesting asides, such as the existence of the border towns (both are real) and an ‘insect eradication programme’, which in this case is used as a front for the infiltration of ‘black ice’. Such details seem to be a feature of the series so far, but they keep the storytelling fresh and interesting and the same is true of the main character. Bosch is familiar with the violence and deprivation that characterize survival on the streets and the lure of gang culture and though he doesn’t excuse it, he understands and deplores the exploitation of the desperate, through the greed of the strong. His mission of holding those who misappropriate the lives of others to account is inherently satisfying, with a moral dimension, but it is focused unashamedly on the perpetrators rather than the unfortunate victims. And so to book three…
'A letter?' repeated Professor McGonagall faintly, sitting back down on the wall. 'Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter? These people will never understand him! He'll be famous - a legend - I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in future - there will be books written about Harry - every child in our world will know his name!'
I wonder if when she wrote this, J K Rowling realized just how true this was going to be.