Saturday, March 12, 2005

Michael Connelly Writes LA Brilliantly

Two colleagues of mine have been praising detective writer Michael Connelly for a long time, saying he's their favorite Los Angeles detective writer I've never read any Connelly until one of my students loaned me his novel Angel's Flight. The novel was a gripping read, capturing the period of the mid-1990s in L.A. when the town was split by racial conflict and all attempts to reform the L.A.P.D. were making the slowest of slow progress.

In Angel's Flight LAPD detectives find two dead bodies in Angel's Flight, the much beloved funicular railroad downtown that takes people up to the top of Bunker Hill. One of the dead bodies is the black civil rights lawyerHoward Elias whose specialty is suing the L.A.P.D. over cop brutality. Obiviously, the L.A.P.D. officers he had sued are prime suspects. The white lead detective Harry Bosch and his two black detective partners have to investigate cops as well as any other suspect while the cops resent being looked on as suspects. The city leaders are terrified of another riot like the 1992 one while black churchmen lead protests demanding justice. Angel's Flight captures those racial conflicts in Los Ageles better than any other piece of fiction I've read.

Part of the pleasures of the novel is its use of locations. Besides finding the muder victims on Angel's Flight, the detectives go to the deceased lawyer's office which is in the Bradbury Building which Connelly calls "the dusty jewel of downtown." Then the detectives go to the lawyer's apartment which is one of the new apartment towers downtown as well as his home in Baldwin Hills and then stop by Grand Central Market. The characters really inhabit the downtown streets as well as the corridors of power in Parker Center and the houses of the wealthy in Brentwood in a way similar to how Phillip Marlowe explores the whole town.

Another of the novel's pleasures is the naive hard working hero idealistic Harry Bosch who wants to think well of his fellow white cops as well as investigate them as possible suspects. Bosche is forever getting in trouble with his bureaucratic superiors--the novel does a great job of caputring the experience of working for a large city bureaucracy. Bosch like the other white cops can't believe in Elias's latest case accusing the L.A.P.D. of torturing an innocent black man; it's only later in the novel when Bosch finds that Elias was completely right: his client was innocent and manhandled by the cops. Part of the novel is watching idealistic Harry Bosch who peels away lies including the lies he tries to believe in. The hero has to face his own demons and terrors in his investigation, so Connelly is writing a fine character as hero who goes from naivite to knowledge. At the same time Bosch has to deal with how to keep his integrity while working within this bureaucracy which tries to protect itself.

Another pleasure is Connelly's ability to capture the media frenzy of press on the trail of a hot story at the press conference at Parker Center. He shows us Los Angeles buffeted by conflicts among the L.A.P.D., frenzied media, and community civil rights activtists--his LA is real as today's news story. While other novels might have the place right, Angel's Flight captures both the place, the period of the mid-1990s and the periods intense conflicts. My colleagues were right--Michael Connelly is a brilliant detective writer, a worthy succesor to Raymond Chandler.

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