Here’s my crime fiction trifecta: Los Angeles, murder and an Irish Catholic writer. There’s something about the City of Angels and writers raised in such self-identified ethnic homes that makes for an entertaining read.
At least for me and at least when the writer is James M. Cain.
Or Michael Connelly.
I hope it’s clear by now that the poles I bounce between are the hairshirt-wearing reader of heavy stuff and a guy who reads the same books regular people do. All work and no play, you know. And when I play, I like a tale I can sink my teeth into.
I’ve written of Connelly before. At times I’m tempted by the thought that his singular contribution to the genre in which he works is a hero with a 4-syllable first name. One- and two-syllable every man names are more common. Maybe that’s why at the end of the day everybody calls Hieronymous Harry.
Harry figures in this story but as with my last dalliance the focus is on another Connelly regular, defense attorney Mickey Haller. It’s always a challenge to turn a defense attorney into a hero. Even if we believed every accused person was really innocent we’ve all heard the ‘My client is entitled to a vigorous defense’ speech so many times that it’s hard not to view the defense bar with cynicism.
So what better way to overcome such cynicism than by turning the tables? At the outset our friend Mickey is recruited by the LA County District Attorney to serve as a special prosecutor. That in itself is unusual but so is the crime, The defendant, as Mickey and the DA meet, is a couple of hundred miles north in San Quentin, awaiting release from a life sentence for a crime that new DNA evidence proves he did not do. The DA plans to prosecute anew and he wants a ringer.
Or does he? That’s a question that’s never really answered because of the way things work out. And it almost doesn’t matter. The DA is supposed to be the guy representing the right side. But the conventions of crime fiction require that we never really trust the DA–it’s a political office after all. And this time is no different. There’s a lovely bit near the end where Haller and the DA are trying to settle terms by parsing the original deal. It’s as fine an example as you’ll ever find of why lawyers are not like you or me.
Haller, in case it isn’t clear, takes the case after negotiating terms that include his first ex-wife (this is, remember, an LA story) sitting in the second chair and an investigator of his choice. That would be none other than our old friend Harry Bosch who, just to keep things interesting, is Mickey’s half-brother. Things get complicated in Los Angeles.
And what of the case? Twenty four years ago an eleven-year old girl was snatched from her front yard. Within hours her body was found, disposed of in a nearby dumpster like so many restaurant scraps. The LAPD was all over the case and quickly zeroed in on some suspects. One, Jason Jessup, is identified, tried and convicted. Case closed before the book even begins, right?
Not so fast. Jessup’s conviction was based, in part, on a semen stain on the victim’s dress. But it was nearly a quarter century ago so all that could be matched was the blood type. Jessup was a match and that helped seal his fate. But the wheels of science grind on and with DNA analysis now widely available Jessup’s case is reopened. And the DNA doesn’t match.
We’ve seen this one before. Innocent man in prison forever walks and sues the government for false arrest and imprisonment. Except the DA, politically ambitious, wants to retry the case and save the taxpayers a huge settlement. Enter the ringer. Jessup has signed on with a high-profile defense attorney and the DA wants the prosecution to have an inside track on how the defense thinks.
There is, of course, a trial. In fact, a big chunk of the book is trial prep and the trial itself. The action-packed parts–and there are enough to propel the book and create a sense of dread and menace–are in the hands of Harry Bosch who is his usual diligent, driven self. There’s more than one reason to want Jessup reconvicted by the time Bosch is through investigating.
It’s important to not say too much about how things end up, otherwise I’ll ruin the fun. Let’s just say that in the end justice is done but at a quite unanticipated cost.
For me, one of the great things about these books is how I suspend all critical thinking as they rollick along. For instance, Harry Bosch lives in one of those hillside houses off Mullholland Drive that we always see in movies. Bo Catlett’s house (seen nearby) in the Get Shorty film is a good example.
Yet I’ve always thought the hills and canyons were where the rock and movie stars lived. Sharon Tate. Neil Young. Joni Mitchell. Hill dwellers to a one at some point. So how does a detective sergeant live among them?
I’ll be damned if I know, Haller is always at risk of losing his house but of Bosch’s we never hear a word. Maybe that’s because Haller’s chapters are in the first person and Bosch’s the third. That odd combination might just result in a new oxymoron: impaired omniscience.
And yet I don’t care. It’s an entertaining read and that’s all I want when I reach for something on the lighter side.