We here at MojoFiction like a good mystery novel now and again. They are usually better than the procedural fare on television these days and, to be honest, we don’t think we could ever write one, so we’re constantly entertained by the likes of Jeffery Deaver, Robert Crais, and Michael Connelly. Unfortunately, we think that Michael Connelly has churned out some clunkers as of late. It’s not that they haven’t been interesting, but they have either been repetitious (Lincoln Lawyer series), or somewhat far-fetched (9 Dragons). But since Mr. Connelly is still an excellent writer, we always find ourselves picking up his next book anyway. We waited a while on this one though. We shouldn’t have.
The Black Box
This novel once again follows the exploits of L.A. police detective Harry Bosch, a self-righteous thorn in the side of every captain and every Internal Affairs agent (now the Professional Standards Bureau), and the only parental figure in the life of his thirteen-year-old daughter. Trying to balance his personal life with his obsession with solving homicides, Harry often makes more trouble than he actually finds in the world.
Detective Bosch works in the Open/Unsolved department, following up on new leads in cold cases. At the start of the story, the author takes us back to 1992 and the riots that followed the not guilty verdict of the law enforcement officers accused of beating Rodney King. Detective Bosch is, of course, younger, and assigned to a team during those days that responded to the reports of bodies found in the wake of the riots. Bosch and the team have resigned themselves to the fact that they most likely will not solve many, if any, of those cases. But one in particular sticks in his mind from those dark days: the unsolved case of a foreign journalist, Anneke Jespersen, who came to L.A. to cover the riots and was found dead in a dark alley shortly after arriving. The case sticks in his mind because, by all appearances, she was executed and not the victim of random violence.
Twenty years later, a connection is made between a bullet casing found at the crime scene and a gun used in several gang-related killings since then. However, the actual gun has never been located. But the connection is enough to send Bosch on a twisted trail through twenty years of gangland violence and the forgotten life of Anneke Jespersen.
The Black Box reminded us of another Bosch novel called The Closers, which was the first Michael Connelly novel we ever read. As in that novel, The Black Box presents a straight-forward police procedural that quickly becomes a fascinating mystery. The author builds the story with a natural pacing that other authors can only envy. He drops in clues and more than enough red herrings in every chapter to keep the reader constantly guessing wrong on where the story is headed (we guessed wrong, maybe you’re smarter…). It’s not a big thriller, with “page-turning action” or conspiracies that “go all the way to the top.” It’s a smart, suspense-filled drama, peopled with characters that don’t always make the best decisions, especially the main character. We thought the mystery was entirely plausible and that helped make it a much more interesting story.
That said, the ending does devolve somewhat into Hollywood thriller territory, taking away some of the realism. But it’s still exciting and only a small knock on another excellent entry in the Harry Bosch canon.