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Sunday, January 19, 2014

THE BLACK BOX (Harry Bosch #18) by Michael Connelly

First published in November of 2012.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Bosch book Michael Connelly has Harry re-visit a case from twenty years ago in The Black Box. The book starts with a flashback to the Rodney King Riots in 1992. There were so many questionable deaths during the riots (more than 50) that LAPD put out rolling homicide teams that documented scenes as well as possible until they were called out to yet another death. Harry Bosch and this then-partner Jerry Edgar made up one was on one of those teams. Most of the victims they dealt with were people local to the neighborhoods where they were found so Anneke Jespersen, a foreign press photographer from Denmark stuck out and Harry Bosch always remembered her and felt guilty because he knew that he did not do a good job of starting the investigation into her murder due to the chaos of the riot - the investigation was barely started when they were called to another scene and by the time a true formal investigation was started the trail was long cold. The same could be said for almost all of the murders they looked into during the riots.
Michael Connelly.
Photo by Mark Coggins

Harry Bosch is still working in the Open-Unsolved Unit (the cold case squad) and Anneka Jespersen's case has been referred to them because of a ballistics match with other murders. So, Harry Bosch does his thing which is mostly starting to dig and irritating everyone else around him. The most important feature to the story is Bosch's sense that the end is near - his career has a definite ending date now and Bosch's investigation have picked up a sense of desperation - he will never be able to solve them all.

Connelly works in a nice literary allusion while Bosch is discussing one of his daughter's assignments. She is reading The Catcher in the Rye and they discuss if briefly. Bosch knows almost nothing of the book, but I was struck by the similarity between Bosch and his deep almost unrecognized need to solve as many murders as he can before he is forced to retire and this famous passage, perhaps the best-known passage, from The Catcher in the Rye: 

"You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like – "

"It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."

"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."

She was right, though. It is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye." I didn't know it then, though.

"I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

Holden Caulfield wants to save all of the kids in his misunderstanding of the words of the poem - it's the only thing he'd really like to be. Harry Bosch has to solve all of the murders. He has to be the man who finds justice for these victims. It's the only thing he really wants to be.

At one point Bosch is describing the work of his favorite jazz musician, Art Pepper, but the description fits Bosch perfectly as well: "Powerful and relentless, and sometimes sad." (p. 199) This relentless nature earns him the ire of his new boss, Lieutenant O'Toole, and the chief who knows that Harry could very well solve this case on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the riots and it would look bad politically for one of the few solved murders to be that of one of the few white victims. He wants Harry to postpone his investigation for a few months, but Harry just can't do that and continue to be Harry Bosch. 

Despite the improbable dramatic ending I found this book to be a most satisfying Harry Bosch story, full of Bosch's disdain for bureaucracy and his willingness to go with an educated hunch no matter the cost. The ongoing story line describing Harry and his daughter is interesting, especially with her possible interest in becoming a police detective after she completes her education. Bosch's love life is giving the short shrift in this story. Bosch and his partner Chu continue to float along - they are partners in only the loosest sense of the world.

On an interesting note, one of Michael Connelly's real-life technical advisors about the workings of the Open-Unsolved Unit, Rick Jackson, makes a couple of extended appearances and works with Bosch.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on January 19, 2014.

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