The Late Show by Michael Connelly

I’ve enjoyed many books by Michael Connelly, and when I learned his new book, The Late Show, was coming out, I looked forward to reading it. I didn’t know anything about the storyline, and I think perhaps I assumed it would be another in the long line of Connelly’s crime novels set in Los Angeles with a strong male protagonist (such as Harry Bosch or Mickey Haller).

But no! In the first paragraph, we learn that two police officers (“Ballard and Jenkins”) are working the night shift. We soon learn that Ballard is a female officer (at which point I thought, “OMG, is she the lead character here? A woman? AWESOME!!)

The way Connelly reveals Renee Ballard’s backstory, interweaving it with a complex police procedural full of the workings of the LAPD, is masterful. We learn that she is working nights (aka “the late show”) as a punishment for filing a sexual harassment suit against a former supervisor. She managed to keep her badge, but is clearly a black sheep in the squad room.

One night Renee catches two assignments that seem unrelated: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of several people in a nightclub. Although typically the night shift turns all their cases over to the day shift, Ballard is determined not to give up these two cases. As the plot moves along, she chooses to go against both explicit orders and her partner’s wishes, working on both these cases during the day while still taking her regular shifts at night.

She is definitely a woman with a past that drove her to become a cop. After a fatal shooting, she notes there “…was something inside her she didn’t know she had. Something dark. Something scary.” As her investigations progress, she calls on sources she has developed, including navigating the intricacies of dealing with the media: “She knew a couple of things about how the murky lines between the media and law enforcement were negotiated. She knew there was little cooperation.”

She is advised that her job takes her “…into the bleakest side of the human soul…If you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you. You then have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from hollowing you out.”

No spoilers here, just a STRONG recommendation for Connelly fans, anyone who likes a good mystery, appreciates police procedurals, or just enjoys a good story with a strong, interesting female character, to READ THIS BOOK. It is terrific! Five stars (only because I can’t give six)!

With gratitude to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley, as I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Moral Defense by Marcia Clark

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Moral Defense, by Marcia Clark (yes, THAT Marcia Clark, of OJ fame) is the second in the series featuring a criminal defense attorney named Samantha Brinkman, based in Los Angeles. I first met Sam in Blood Defense, the first title in the series, in which Sam defended a decorated homicide detective accused in a double murder. Turns out there was a significant connection between Sam and the defendant, which was a complete blindside to her when she found out, and which pretty much rocked her world. That defendant reappears in this second book, and it appears he will be a recurring character in the series.

Sam and her two associates (one is a genius ex-con, the other her closest childhood friend) sort of fly by the seat of their collective pants, bending some rules and possibly breaking others, as they work to get their clients off at all costs. In this second book, Sam is hired as a legal advocate for a teenager named Cassie who has been accused of murdering her father and brother and leaving her mother clinging to life. It’s the perfect case for an attorney longing to make it to the bigtime, media-frenzy cases that will guarantee success. As the case unfolds, Sam discovers she identifies with Cassie (which might be clouding her judgment, but which motivates her to work even more ferociously to solve the mystery and keep Cassie from going to jail).

I admit to a fascination with Marcia Clark, going back to the early 90s when she was a media star as well as a legal star as she battled to convict OJ (double murders seem to recur in her books. She has another series with a female protagonist who is on the other side, prosecuting cases, which is clearly where Marcia’s expertise would seem to lie. But I think perhaps writing this series, about defending accused criminals, has allowed Ms. Clark to explore how she might have acted if she were truly on the (“anything goes as long as you don’t get caught”) defense side of the aisle.

Sam is a great characted, and her opinions suggest how Marcia may have felt during her legal career: “I’d been trashed on cable for dressing like a bargain-basement rag doll. Someday, women won’t have to put up with it. Someday, people are going to care more about what we say and do than what we look like. But that day didn’t seem to be coming any time soon…”

Her “anything goes” approach is reflected as she speaks to key figures in the investigation. In one instance, her words and her thoughts are somewhat at odds: ““Everything you say to me will be confidential. I promise you.” Unless you give me something I can use, in which case I’ll tie you to my bumper and drag you all the way to the courthouse.” In another conversation, she asks “”…You okay with that?” It didn’t really matter, The lawyer controls the case and sets the strategy. The only decisions the clients really get to make are whether to plead guilty and whether to take the stand. But it’s good to let them feel like they have a say in things. Make them ore cooperative.”

I had a few issues with minor details in the story, but they didn’t affect the plot. For example, at one point, she says “Mission Viejo is further south, not far from San Diego.” Which is totally not correct, and has no impact on the story, as it didn’t affect anything as the narrative moved the location of Mission Viejo further from LA. It just seemed slightly sloppy, but I let it go because the story and character development were really pulling me along. I REALLY wanted to know what happened with Cassie, and why Sam was so connected to her.

I look forward to the next books in the Samantha Brinkman series. (Personally, I don’t care if I read any more in the Rachel Knight series, because Sam is a much more interesting character than Rachel, again just IMHO)

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Net Galley for an advance copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Four stars, and REALLY close to five.

 

 

 

Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry

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This fast-paced novel from Thomas Perry focuses on two couples: Sid and Ronnie (Veronica) Abel are married detectives, retired from LAPD and now working together in their own agency. Ed and Nicole Hoyt are married assassins who live in the San Fernando Valley and sell their services to anyone who will pay them. A year ago, a middle-aged research scientist from a private corporation was murdered, his body (with two bullet holes in the skull) only discovered when it clogged a storm drain on its way to the ocean. His employers hire the Abels to delve into the case after the LAPD has come up with nothing but dead ends.

There are some interesting questions floating around: the victim was African-American: was this racially motivated? Were industrial secrets involved (the corporation has some mysterious military contracts)? Was the victim’s divorce a factor? Why do people start shooting at the Abels as soon as they begin to dig in to the case? And who hired the Hoyts, anyway?And why?

Perry does a great job revealing important pieces of the puzzle as the story unfolds, and we learn more about the Abels, the Hoyts, diamond thieves and the LA storm drain system.

The end may require a slight bit of the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief, and at one point I thought “hmm, is this written with the big screen in mind?” – and I have some ideas for casting the movie. The rapid growth of suburbia around LA and the varied locales throughout the Valley will make great locations for shooting the film J

The characters are well developed, and the Abels are prime candidates for another adventure. The writing is strong, the plot is tight (with some unexpected twists and turns), and the pace is fast. I really enjoyed this book (I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Perry’s work!) and look forward to the next in what I hope will be a series. Five stars. I appreciate the opportunity to read an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.