NOIR QUESTING: HARRY BOSCH A MODERN HERO
By Rick McMahan
Nighthawks. Other than being the name of an excellent blues band, Nighthawks is the title of Edward Hopper's painting, a late night scene: a well-lit diner, a couple joined together in intimate conversation with a man looking on, opposite the other two. Alone in the brightly lit diner, the night pushes at the windows.
Nighthawks also describes Michael Connelly's hero, Los Angeles Homicide Detective Hieroynmus Bosch. I first followed Harry Bosch's exploits last summer when, on a whim, I picked up a paperback copy of THE BLACK ECHO, which also won the Edgar Award. I bought THE BLACK ECHO on Thursday evening after work and I finished the book Saturday morning. Then, as soon as I read the last page, I went back to the bookstore and bought BLACK ICE in hardback. A few weeks ago, Connelly's third Harry Bosch novel, THE CONCRETE BLONDE came out in hardback. The first day it was on the shelves I picked it up and hardly put it down until I was finished. All of Connelly's story-lines are interesting, full of plot twists and intriguing characters fleshed out with vivid imagery. But the drive behind Connelly's works is the hero Harry Bosch.
Who is Harry Bosch? Other than having the name of a painter, Bosch is almost a stereotype in detective fiction. A middle-aged man disillusioned with life, but still a romantic; Harry's seen enough of the dark-side of man; first in Vietnam as a tunnel rat and then back in the states as a cop guarding the streets in the city of Angels.
Bosch lives in a stilthouse overlooking Hollywood, listens to jazz, has insomnia problems related to his time in Vietnam and in this age of political correctness he smokes.
He sounds like any one of hundreds of other heroes of mystery writers, right? Right. Except Michael Connelly's writing gives Harry Bosch his own voice. Harry Bosch is a Nighthawk. He does not come from a family of career cops trailing back generations. He does not fit in with the mold of accepted LAPD norms. He isn't a back-slapper. He is his own man. An internal drive demands he follow up on questions or perceived commitments even if doing so is not in his best interest career wise or personally.
He grew up in state homes, barely knowing his mother and never knowing his father. Bosch is a product of social institutions. He then joined the Army in Vietnam, and when he returned became part of the thin-blue-line on Los Angeles' harsh streets. By thorough investigations and work and good luck on some cases, Harry became one of the fair-haired children on the Robbery-Homicide desk at Parker Center. Then an instant, almost laughable mistake (laughable if it weren't so consequential) sent Harry Bosch into exile in the netherlands of the Hollywood Division.
In THE BLACK ECHO when we first meet Harry Bosch, he has been exiled to the Homicide Desk in Hollywood after the Dollmaker case. We also learn, Harry was part of a task force trying to find a serial killer named the Dollmaker (for the way he decorated his victims). Harry followed a lead from a hooker into an apartment, alone with no backup. As the suspect reached under a pillow, Harry shot him. The man was only reaching for a hairpiece. After a lengthy internal affairs investigation, Harry was shipped off to the Hollywood division: The cesspool.
The last case Harry was assigned before THE BLACK ECHO opens was a transvestite stabbing.
The on-call detective, Bosch responds to the scene of an apparent overdose by a junkie in a tunnel at a reservoir. When Harry crawls into the tunnel, however he sees a face from the past-- Meadows, a fellow tunnel rat from Vietnam. It's a Sunday and everyone at the scene wants to call it an OD, but Harry thinks it's murder. Harry links his former friend Meadows to a pawned bracelet from a multi- million dollar bank heist. The robbers had used the extensive underground drainage tunnels to pull off the robbery the year before. And there are tell-tale signs that the persons involved had been in Vietnam.
Before long, Harry is linked up with an attractive FBI agent, Eleanor Wish, in his search for the robbers/killers. And Internal Affairs personified by Detectives Lewis and Clark are once again snooping after Harry. In THE BLACK ECHO, the plot twists and curves all the way to the very end.
Harry Bosch returns in THE BLACK ICE with Harry nosing his way into the investigation of the suicide of a fellow cop. It's Christmas, and Harry is again on-call, but the brass at Parker Center don't even call him when a narcotics officer, Calexico Moore is found dead in a Hollywood motel room after eating the hollow end of a twelve gauge. The bureaucrats at Parker Center want to get this case out of the limelight, but Harry wants to find the truth.
Moore's death seems linked to a Juan Doe (like John and Jane, Juan is used for hispanic unknown victims) homicide Harry was investigating. And the truth leads him on a hunt through the alleys of Los Angeles to across the border in Mexico where he teams up with half-deranged DEA agents going after a major drug dealer in Bosch's quest for the truth.
As he continues his search for the killer of Calexico Moore, Harry Bosch finds himself examining Moore's life in minute detail, a man who was striving to make sense of his own existence.
In his latest outing with Detective Harry Bosch in THE CONCRETE BLONDE, Michael Connelly weaves an intriguing plot, one which echoes the 90's.
Harry is being sued by the family survivors of the man known as the Dollmaker. Speculation is high as to Harry's chances of being slammed with a huge financial award. Once again Harry is hobbled. His own lawyer is a bumbling attorney unsure of himself in the courtroom while the other side has a hired gun, a female shark for an attorney. Before the first day of the trial is over there is a new twist on the old Dollmaker case. An anonymous caller to LAPD tipped them to a dead blonde woman encased in concrete under the footings of a storage shed. The homicide matches the MO of the Dollmaker case. The forensics evidence clearly shows that the woman was killed after Harry shot the Dollmaker. Is it a copy-cat killer or did Harry, as the family of the dead man claim, shoot the wrong man?
By day Harry has to face the grueling trial and watch as people with the luxury of time, distance, and space second-guess life and death decisions he made in mere seconds. Eventually, even Harry wonders if he shot the wrong man. By night, Harry prowls the streets trying to learn the identity of the concrete blonde and her killer. And while doing so, Harry is drawn into the darkness of prostitutes and the porn industry.
To complicate things, Harry and his girlfriend Sylvia Moore are having problems which require Harry to do something he's never done before---open himself up.
Once again Connelly twists and knots the plot, weaving a wonderful tale.
One of the things which adds so much to Connelly's work is realism and details. Whether describing the alley smelling of piss and vomit in back of the Hollywood station where smokers like Harry Bosch are regulated by PC to smoke, or the description of omnipresent inter-agency rivalries or the paperwork that is an everpresent part of police work, Connelly creates vividly accurate pictures. One of the interesting things about Connelly's stories are the small details, the little asides which put his fictional characters in the real world.
In The Black Echo we learn the story of how Harry first met one of the medical examiners back in the 70's as they were assigned to search the burned out rubble of a house -- the house of the SLA and Patty Hearst. Harry's bought his house with the royalty payments he received for working as a technical advisor when one of his cases was made into a TV mini-series. Then in THE BLACK ICE, Harry finds himself in Mexico with DEA CLET (Clandestine Lab Entry Team). Though Connelly makes errors regarding with such things as firearms, his description of DEA CLET is done well enough to add a touch of realism.
The body found in THE CONCRETE BLONDE is in a section of town ravaged by the Rodney King riots, something which everyone is familiar with and which isn't too far from our minds. Touches like this flesh out Connelly's book, mingling real-world references with the characters from his mind.
The people Harry Bosch has to deal with on a continual basis are memorable. There's Harry's supervisor of the Hollywood division, Harvey "Ninety-Eight" Pounds who's a through and through bureaucrat looking out for what will make himself look good. Or Harry's sometime- partner in Hollywood, Jerry Edgars, who has an outside gig from LAPD as a real estate salesman. Then there's the alcoholic detective Porter. Bremmer, Harry's contact with the LA newspaper, and the man who wrote the true-crime book about the Dollmaker case. And the surly Assistant Chief Irving who's concern is first and foremost the Job and the Department.
I urge those of you who like noire detective fiction with a lone and lonely hero to pick up Michael Connelly's novels. Connelly is not a law enforcement officer, but a journalist who's covered the crime beat of LA for several years. And his experience as a crime reporter and natural writing ability blend together to create very readable and believable books. There are very few authors whose work I'll buy in hardback, but as you can tell, Connelly has quickly become one of those authors.
After THE BLACK ICE I wondered where Connelly would take Bosch next, and how he would keep Harry from stagnating as a character. The answer to my question was THE CONCRETE BLONDE. And I'm already thinking the same question---what will Connelly do with Bosch next?
For those of you who have never read Connelly's writing, I strongly urge you to. And although it's not necessary, I personally believe reading the novels in order will give the reader a greater sense of growth and discovery of LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.
HARRY BOSCH novels by Michael Connelly
- THE BLACK ECHO - 1992 St. Martin's Press-paperback)
- THE BLACK ICE - 1993 (Little, Brown-hardcover)
- THE CONCRETE BLONDE - 1994 (Little, Brown -hardcover)
- (1995 SMP-paperback)
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