Written by Michael Connelly — You’re a crime writer at the top of your game, author of a best-selling series and creator of some of the genre’s best loved characters. Time to rest on the laurels, then, Michael Connelly? No chance – and that’s great news for this author’s devoted following!
Meet Ballard, a new LAPD detective Connelly has created who, like Harry Bosch, takes her job very seriously. Like him, she is also something of an outsider but that’s where the comparisons end. A lazy author might just come up with a female version of a formula that’s already served well. But the word lazy isn’t in Connelly’s vocabulary, hence the introduction of a protagonist who is a delightful one-off.
Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood, the late show of the title. The job’s a grind, populated by those who’ve been sidelined after falling foul of the bureaucracy and politics of the department. Ballard certainly fits the criteria. A 14-year veteran, she was moved sideways after filing a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. She’s a talented detective, frustrated by a job that has her starting on cases that are then passed onto the day shift, never to cross her desk again. Her partner, Jenkins, is cut from a different cloth; he is caring for his wife, who has terminal cancer, and working nights suits him fine. He isn’t about to rock any boats and end up on overtime.
One fateful night, the partners pick up two cases that pique Ballard’s interest and she finds hard to let go. A prostitute is beaten badly and left for dead, lying in a pool of blood in a deserted car park, while a young waitress is shot and killed, an unlucky bystander in a nightclub shooting which claims five lives. Ballard knows both cases will probably be dismissed as not worth pursuing and Jenkins is all for passing them along and forgetting about them. But, Connelly’s new lead character is a woman who knows all about being put to one side and she decides to work both cases in the daytime while maintaining her shift in the wee small hours.
Quite enough to be going on with there, plotwise, but this is Michael Connelly so there’s plenty more to keep us occupied. First and foremost is Renée Ballard herself, and the author adds layer upon layer to create a mouthwatering confection worthy of a French patisserie. She’s a tough, uncompromising cop, not averse to surreptitiously bending a rule or two, who has that famous ‘gut instinct’ so beloved of crime fiction detectives.
It’s a masterclass in developing a back story without a clumsy, overwhelming info dump and I loved exploring the many facets of Ballard’s personality. She has Hawaiian heritage and spent her early years learning to surf with her father, an expert at the sport. But at just 14 Renée saw him die in a tragic surfing accident. It was a moment that changed her life but didn’t take away her love of the water. She is a skilled surfer who spends her downtime on the ocean, watched over by rescue dog Lola, before going home to… Well actually she doesn’t go home, because this is the nearest we’ll ever come to a homeless cop! Instead, Ballard catches some zeds in her little tent on the beach before setting off back to work.
The daily grind is a major logistical exercise for a woman who uses her work locker as a wardrobe, does her laundry at her grandmother’s whenever she can spare a few hours, and shares her pet with a dog sitter who isn’t too happy at the length of time Lola is away from her owner. Somehow, despite all this, Ballard is putting in a good night’s work on the graveyard shift and pursuing her leads by day, despite very little sleep. She may be treated as a no-hoper by some, but that doesn’t stop her doing her very best for the victims.
I love this woman and wanted to give her hugs as well as the occasional kick up the backside. She is a driven creature who, alongside everything else, has to contend with maintaining a working relationship with the man who sexually assaulted her and sent her to the doldrums. Their paths haven’t crossed much, but Lieutenant Robert Olivas heads up one of the Homicide Special teams and he’s in charge of the investigation into the mass shooting at The Dancers night club.
To add insult to injury, working alongside Olivas is Ballard’s former partner, Detective Ken Chastain, an ambitious cop whose silence helped to seal Ballard’s fate. Both men have a major part to play in this tale. The sexual harassment angle is very pertinent given today’s political maelstrom and took me back to another book that I loved – Coptown by Karin Slaughter (reviewed here). They may be set 40 years apart, but both have a great story to share.
Expect Connelly’s trademark Technicolor locations – but here, the sweeping cityscapes have the welcome addition of beach and waterborne scenes, adding a virtual breath of fresh air amid the smog and vehicle fumes of Los Angeles. Add in snappy characterisation, crisp dialogue and even throw in a fleeting mention of a certain Harry Bosch and you know you’re in for a treat in a book you won’t want to finish.
Two Kinds of Truth, a new Harry Bosch novel, is out in October and this book contains an exclusive extract to whet the appetite. Read a review of the book that introduced that character, The Black Echo.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars