In 1992 detective Harry Bosch had little more than one hour to gather and preserve evidence in the murder of a young photojournalist, Anneke Jespersen, from Denmark. Inexplicably, she was in the thick of the L.A. riots when she was murdered execution style. Twenty years later, Michael Connelly’s famous fictional detective, Hieronymus Bosch, returns to the scene of that unsolved murder.
“The Black Box.” By Michael Connelly. Little, Brown & Co., 2012. 403 pages. $27.99.
In 1992 detective Harry Bosch had little more than one hour to gather and preserve evidence in the murder of a young photojournalist, Anneke Jespersen, from Denmark. Inexplicably, she was in the thick of the L.A. riots when she was murdered execution style. There were many murders that night so Bosch and his team had no choice but to move on to the next dead body.
Twenty years later, Michael Connelly’s famous fictional detective, Hieronymus Bosch, returns to the scene of that unsolved murder. Now a member of the Open-Unsolved Unit, Bosch gets a second chance to find out how and why an attractive young reporter was shot dead in an alley amid the chaos of the race riots. A lot about this killing, dubbed the Snow White case, doesn’t make sense to Bosch.
“The Black Box” is Michael Connelly’s 25th novel and it is noteworthy on several counts. For one, it provides an especially strong and poignant rendering of Bosch’s struggle to balance his work drive and his personal life. “The Black Box” also brings Bosch fans full circle, for it was in the1992 riots that we first met Bosch in Connelly’s “The Black Echo.”
At this late stage in his troubled career, Bosch works on contract in the Open-Unsolved Unit in the LAPD. These decades-old cold cases are challenging if not demoralizing. What makes Bosch good at it, besides his obvious skills at detection, is his commitment to the victim and his single-minded pursuit of the truth. In “The Black Box,” he defies his superiors, who are wary of his solving the murder of a white woman when so many black murders remain unsolved. His defiance quickly leads to an official inquiry that plagues him throughout this investigation.
Bosch has almost nothing to work with in the Snow White case. He contacts the victim’s brother in Denmark and her employer, for whom she worked as a freelancer. No one knew what she was working on and one of her editors is dead. Bosch needs to find the “black box,” that piece of evidence, that person or clue that will bring “a certain understanding and help explain what had happened and why.” Bosch works each old and threadbare clue to its frazzled end, piecing together names and faces till the outlines of a conspiracy begin to emerge. He cannot define the conspiracy that ended Jespersen’s life, but through relentless thought and searching he begins to identify the conspirators.
Readers feel like co-detectives when they read a Bosch mystery. There’s a lot of insider knowledge and police procedure that Connelly explains. For example, Harry takes his teenage daughter to the Force Options Simulator, a training device that immerses police in simulated situations to which they must respond. Actors on screen play out typical but dangerous scenarios like bank robberies in progress or erratic drivers who refuse to get out of the car once they have been pulled over. These are shoot/don’t shoot situations that require astute observational skills and trained, split-second responses. And despite how well his daughter Maddie does in these exercises, she’s not satisfied. Bosch grapples for a way to break through her disappointment as he reminds us of the fine line parents of adolescents walk. Bosch, a Vietnam vet, applies as much thought to his relationships with his daughter and his lover as he does to his cold cases. To this struggling detective, everything in life is a procedural.
Page 2 of 2 - And despite his skill at methodical thought and deduction, there is a time in every case and every situation when information or events mount and overwhelm. Bosch, practically a Luddite, holds it all in his head and on scraps of paper. Only his history of success and expertise prevent him from approaching relic status. And as we see in this novel, he must battle a perception that he is a candidate for retirement. That, Bosch fans will agree, will be a very sad day, indeed.
According to Connelly’s literary manager, Connelly is producing a Harry Bosch television series slated for late 2013. He’s working with screenwriter Eric Overmyer (“The Wire,” “Treme”) and teaming with Fuse Entertainment (“The Killing,” “Burn Notice”). He’s also making a documentary, “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Project,” about the late jazz saxophonist. Bosch loves jazz, too.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.