Happy New Year! Let’s talk about murder. Fictional, of course… When you pick up a Michael Connelly novel, you pretty expect someone to get knocked off, if not more than one someone. The Late Show offers no exception.
It’s not often Mr. Connelly introduces a new main character. In The Late Show, we get Renée Ballard, a police detective in Los Angeles who finds herself relegated to the overnight shift, AKA “The Late Show.” The detectives on the late show rarely close cases, they only start them for the divisions on the regular shift. But one night, Ballard runs into three different cases, neither of which she wants to pass off: a case of credit card theft, a possible kidnapping and attempted murder, and a multi-victim shooting at a nightclub. She isn’t given a choice with the nightclub, as her old robbery-homicide division swoops in the take over the investigation. A nightclub shooting is big news and demands immediate attention. Ballard can’t let it go, so she quietly investigates behind the scenes.
Juggling a mystery novel with multiple cases can be tricky business. It might feel like a few short stories pressed together to make a full-length novel. Or it might rely heavily on character development, with the cases as more of a convenience to move things along. These aren’t necessarily bad, but the tricky part is holding the reader’s attention throughout the book. In The Late Show, the author somehow bypasses these possible pitfalls to create a seamless narrative. It never feels like the cases are afterthoughts, or simply tools to illustrate character traits or growth. The depiction of the night shift makes it feel natural for a detective to juggle these cases all at once. They never feel isolated, but part of the overall arc.
It’s the pacing that gets it there. Michael Connelly has been writing for a long time. Maybe it’s the new character, or maybe it’s the long experience, but The Late Show might showcase some his best pacing in a mystery novel. Even the breaks to give the reader some insight into Ballard’s personal life come at just the right time and never interrupt the flow or distract from the mysteries afoot.
While the story is told entirely from Ballard’s point of view, secondary characters are distinct and interesting, illustrated enough to feel real without diving too deep into each one. Of course, in a mystery novel, that helps to keep the pool of suspects open. Sometimes a writer will give the point-of-view of the elusive criminal, or other people surrounding the case, but I personally like the singular point of view. It keeps the reader on their toes and lets their imagination run freely until all is revealed.
Anyway, if you didn’t know, I’m a big mystery fan and I’ve read a lot of Connelly’s work. The Late Shift isn’t a major departure from what he does, but the new character has given him the freedom to have some fun that maybe he hasn’t had in a while.
No offense to our man Bosch.