by Michael Connelly
Series: Renée Ballard, #1Hardcover, 405 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2017
Read: July 17 – 22, 2017
Det. Renée Ballard works the graveyard shift out of the Hollywood Station, nicknamed the Late Show. She and her partner, the veteran detective John Jenkins, are basically place-holders — they handle the initial investigation of a crime (or sign off on a suicide) and then hand off their notes to one of the other detective squads that work days. It’s not demanding work — Jenkins likes it because there’s almost no overtime, and he can go home and be with his sick wife during the day. Ballard is stuck on the Late Show because she made some political waves a couple of years back, she couldn’t be fired over it, they could just make sure she found the prospect of another line of work appealing.
We meet Ballard on a pretty eventful night, she and Jenkins look into an elderly woman’s report of her purse being stolen and people using her credit cards; the vicious assault of a transvestite prostitute; and are involved in a minor role following a night club shooting. She and her partner are supposed to be turning over their involvement in these cases to someone else, but Ballard just can’t let go. She works the murder under the radar (as much as she can), gets permission to keep at the assault (which should not be construed as her investigating it according to Hoyle), and is brought back into the robbery organically — I stress this because it’s not all about Ballard skirting regulations, she works within (or near) the system.
Connelly constructs this like a pro — weaving the storylines into a good, cohesive whole. Each story feels like it gets enough time to be adequately told (without the same amount of space being devoted to each), there’s no grand way to connect them all into one, larger crime (which I almost always enjoy, but this is a bit more realistic), while something she learns on one case can be applied to another.
There’s one point where I thought that a plot development meant “oh, now we’re going to wrap things up now — cool.” Which I never would have thought if I bothered to pay attention to which page I was on, but it still seemed like the point that most writers would wrap it up. Instead, Connelly plays things out the way you expect, and then uses that to turn the novel in a different direction.
The book is full of nice little touches like that — Connelly’s been around enough that he knows all the tricks, knows all the plays — he can give you exactly what you think he will and then have the result come up and Connelly’s you.
In the future, I’d like to see a little more about Jenkins — but then again, how much did Connelly really develop Jerry Edgar or Kiz? Still, this is a new series, so he can develop things a bit more — I don’t think there’s a lot that can be done with Jenkins, but he can be more than just the guy who splits paper work with her. I hope that [name withheld] doesn’t become Ballard’s Irving, but I can think of worse things that might happen, so I won’t complain. I also hoped I’d get out of this with only 1 bit of comparison to the Bosch books. Oops.
The best thing — the most important thing — to say here is that Renée Ballard is not a female Harry Bosch; all too often, an established crime writer will end up creating a gender-flipped version of their primary character — basically giving us “X in a skirt” (yeah, I’m looking at you, Sunny Randall). This isn’t the case here. There’s a different emotional depth to Ballard, different lifestyles, different aspirations. Sure, she’s driven, stubborn, and obstinate, just like Harry — but name one fictional detective that isn’t driven, stubborn and obstinate. Readers don't show up in droves for slackers. Is there plenty of room for development and growth for Ballard in the future? Oh yeah. She's not perfect by any means (as a fictional character or as a person). But what a great start.
Same can be said for the series, not just the character — this book does a great job of capturing L.A. (an aspect of it at least), has a great plot, with enough turns to keep the reader satisfied, and a final reveal that's truly satisfying. The last thing that Connelly really needed was to start something new — but I'm glad he decided to.