I’ve had a hankering to read quality Los Angeles mystery tales. It’s tough to find ones that don’t treat the city like either a playground for the rich and famous or a hell for never was-es to slum in. I don’t know much about LA but I’ve always been fascinated by it. I know plenty about New York City and I know the truth is somewhere in between its extreme portrayals and I assume the city of angels is the same.
Michael Connelly’s books kind of scratch that itch for me. This is the fourth one of his I’ve read and the first featuring Detective Renee Ballard. The problem with the others I’ve read, all featuring Detective Harry Bosch, is the subjects. I’ve long since grown tired of mutilated women and/or children and the serial killers who target them. I realize this kind of thing happens but so does every day homicide for reasons other than un-satiated lust. This is apparently Connelly’s métier. So I’ve skipped over large parts of his catalogue.
However, seeing as how he had a new detective series featuring a female lead, I figured I’d try this. And I wasn’t disappointed. Renee Ballard is an interesting character and Connelly gives her enough backstory to make her feel fully realized. Doing scut work on Hollywood Station’s “Late Show”, she is working on three different cases in this one, all of which resolve themselves in various ways.
What Connelly does well in most of his books (this one included) is throw his character in the midst of a bureaucratic struggle from which they have to extricate themselves on top of solving their cases. This pads on a little suspense and helped me feel sympathetic for the lead.
There is a subplot involving the brutal beating of a sex worker transwoman and I’ve written at length in other books about the amount of unnatural violence done to LGBTQIA+ folk in mystery novels. It’s a sad, tired trope and even when the writer thinks they are being sympathetic (as Connelly does here), it still contributes to the misunderstanding that transfolk are perpetual victims who lack their own agency and whose desires and ambitions aren’t worth exploring. The reader should be warned of that going in and if that kind of thing is triggering, maybe sit this one out.
Despite that issue, I mostly enjoyed this. I doubt I’ll be returning to book two after seeing the synopsis (cold case, team up with Harry Bosch, dead teenage girl) but I like the character and hope she sticks around.