Anneke Jespersen is a pretty Danish “journalist in the true sense of the word”* who is found murdered during the 1992 L.A. riots. “Snow White,” is what she gets called at the crime scene, and Harry Bosch picks up on the nickname, too. It’s a reflexive gesture that can be misconstrued as racist, and someone later asks him to stop it with the nick-name – and the investigation: It would look bad to concentrate on the death of one white girl, when South Central L.A. is burning, and the bulk of the injured and dead are African-American, Hispanic and Korean.
But the idea of “Snow White” lingers for twenty years. Now working with the Open Unsolved Unit, Harry starts looking for “The Black Box” in the title of the 18th Bosch novel: that is, the evidence that can shed light on the past, just like a plane’s black box tells tales of the fall.
“The Black Box” is Michael Connelly getting on track, not one of the best in the series but a marked improvement over the previous lackluster Bosch novel, “The Drop.” I forgive him for having used this plot at least once before (2007’s “Echo Park” was also about a cold case where the killer used the L.A. riots as a smoke screen.)
Less forgivable is how lazy his nick-naming has gotten.
Name play is essential to Michael Connelly’s novels: the nicknames often tell us all we need to know about the characters. Harry is “Hurry-Up Harry,” for instance. A cute co-worker is “Trish the Dish.” But Connelly “The Con” is phoning it in. A short baddie is called “2 Small.” Harry’s new boss, the officious O’Toole, is inevitably dubbed “O’Fool” AND “The Tool.” TWO nick-names! Why would anyone even bother when he’s already named O’TOOLE?
The nick-names don’t allow for much characterization, (everyone is exactly as advertised) but that isn’t the point. Bosch has always been the one complex character in a world of bad guys and their sad prey, and no one wants him to change after all these years, not in big ways. (The little changes are enough: for instance, it was grin-inducing to have him realize, after all this time, that he’s been kind of a disrespectful dick to his investigative partner, Chu.)
It doesn’t matter. The surprises aren’t in characterization, but in the twisty, unpredictable plot. Also, “The Black Box” ends with a Hollywood-worthy helicopter scene, and I’ve been a fan of helicopter scenes ever since “Miss Saigon”
POST-SCRIPT: *Get ready for some linguistic nit-picking. Connelly describes the dead woman as a “journalist in the true sense of the word” and goes off to enumerate her wide-ranging talents.
She’s not a journalist in the “true” sense of the word, she’s a journalist in the “full” sense of the word. I see this mistake a lot: treating “true sense of the word” and “full sense of the word” as interchangeable terms. They’re not. Saying that someone is a journalist in the “true” sense of the word simply means that they write for a “journal”, which, in the TRUE, rarely used sense of the word, is simply a publication that chronicles each “jour.” So being a journalist in the true sense of the word isn’t particularly high praise: it just involves sticking to a daily routine. But when we say that someone is a journalist in the FULL sense of the word, which is what Connelly meant, we’re saying they encompass everything that word connotes.
Get that fixed in the next edition, Mike!
(There, I’m sure I made Michael Connelly cry into his collector’s pile of rare Art Pepper records.)
Art Pepper’s “Patricia” is breathlessly praised in the novel, with Bosch dedicating it to his beloved, if sometimes neglected, daughter. (I usually like my encomiums with a little breath in them, but Pepper really does take the breath away.)