Simon McDonald reviews the first book in Michael Connelly's new series starring LAPD Detective Renée Ballard.
Michael Connelly’s last Harry Bosch novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, was another in a long line of masterful police procedurals. Make no mistake: Connelly’s work is the standard to which all crime fiction should be held. It would be easy for the author, with his 30th book, to rest on his laurels: another Bosch novel; maybe another Lincoln Lawyer legal thriller. Instead, he’s gone and created a brilliant new protagonist, LAPD detective Renée Ballard, who has worked the night shift ever since her failed sexual harassment claim against Lt. Robert Olivas, her supervisor at the Robbery Homicide Division. And while there are plenty of similarities between Ballard and Bosch — a thirst for justice, and penchant for going rogue, to name just a couple — Renée’s no female carbon copy of the now-retired Harry. She’s fresh and distinct, inhabiting the same world of torment, fear and danger as Bosch, but providing a very different perspective.
Please, Mr. Connelly, sir: don’t let The Late Show be Ballard’s first and last appearance.
Ballard works the night shift at the LAPD’s Hollywood Division alongside her partner, Jenkins, accustomed to initiating investigations, but finishing none, as each morning she turns her cases over to day shift detectives. When she catches two cases on the same night, she can’t part with either. One is the brutal beating of a prostitute; the other is the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Despite orders from her superiors and her partner to back off, leave it alone, and let the assigned day shift detectives handle both cases, Ballard launches dual unsanctioned investigations, both of which could lead to her losing her badge, or even worse, her life.
The landscape and themes Connelly explores in The Late Show will be familiar to readers who’ve followed Harry Bosch’s exploits since the beginning, but there’s something refreshing about this young, driven detective’s perspective. When we met Harry in The Black Echo, he was already a seasoned detective with a ton of baggage; it’s very cool to see Connelly try his hand at a less experienced, but no less determined investigator. Long-time readers will also notice characters (or their kin) from previous novels popping up, either as key players or just in the background. It’s easy to forget, we’ve been reading about Harry Bosch since 1992, more than 20 years, and the world’s continuity remains remarkably intact. As is his hallmark, Michael Connelly wonderfully combines a mass of procedural detail, a speeding, Byzantine plot, and a flawed hero.
The Late Show engages from the first page and never lets go, and Renée Ballard is a character I want to be reunited with as soon as possible. Smartly put together, expertly paced and unpredictable. Just great stuff. To use an oft-repeated word when reviewing Connelly’s work: masterful.