With "The Black Box," novelist Michael Connelly has added one more to the apparently inexhaustible supply of cases that challenge Detective Harry Bosch of the Los Angeles Police Department.
This one is a tightly knit tale that begins with the riots in Los Angeles in 1992, and continues with an aborted murder investigation that Bosch picks up two decades later.
It's Connelly's 25th book (19th in the Bosch series) and is a kind of anniversary tribute to the fictional Bosch, who kicked it all off back in 1992 as the main character in Connelly's first novel, "Black Echo."
"Sometime early last year, it was time to start writing a new book," Connelly said recently. "I was very aware that the coming year would be my 20th year of being published, and the 25th book. These were both milestones that I never thought could happen. That led me to write a story that spans 20 years."
As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Connelly covered the rioting that broke out in 1992 after four police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. More than 50 people were killed.
"There were a couple of situations where people used the cover of the riots to commit murders that had nothing to do with social issues," he said.
And therein lies the tale of "The Black Box."
The story is set in the present, but it begins by jumping back to 1992, as Bosch is called to duty during the riots. He discovers the body of a young woman in an alley, the victim of an apparent execution-style slaying. But the city is spinning out of control, and Bosch is needed elsewhere. He finds a spent bullet casing and bags it. He looks at her wallet and finds a Dutch name and a press pass from a Dutch newspaper. Her jacket pocket yields some rolls of film.
And that's it. The case is picked up by other detectives but never solved. It will nag at Bosch for years. He has an almost personal relationship with the murder victims he encounters in his job, and he feels like he let this one down.
Twenty years later, having solved many murders and weathered innumerable internal affairs investigations, Bosch is assigned to a team investigating "cold cases" from the riot, which is nearing its 20th anniversary.
The slain young woman has stuck in Bosch's memory. He retrieves the archived boxes of her belongings and the investigative file. There's not much to go on, but some tantalizing leads develop before the numbskull lieutenant in charge of the cold-case unit tells him to drop it and work another case.
Of course, that puts Bosch on a collision course with yet another insubordination charge. As internal affairs launches an inquiry, he works feverishly to discover who killed that woman so many years ago.
It's classic Connelly, who has a gift for narrating criminal investigations from the inside and bringing them to life. Some things fall into place almost haphazardly. Evidence is mute until its message suddenly becomes clear. A chronology is started, but there are too many blanks to fill. Frustration and tedium come with the territory. There's pressure from above.
Connelly says he creates Bosch's criminal investigations through plain old-fashioned reporting.
"I haven't been a reporter since '94, but I absolutely view myself as a reporter," he said. "I can find people who through their experiences tell me stories. I feel like a reporter on the lam, so to speak."
$27.99, 416 pages