I’ve been going through some of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series this past year. One thing I’ve written about it is my concern of how Connelly walks to the edge of police criticism but then draws back because he needs his Harry Bosch character to be “good,” even when Harry is bending and breaking laws to solve cases that apparently only he can solve.
I like Connelly a lot, I really do. But reading Gar Anthony Haywood’s take on systemic racism and police brutality in You Can Die Trying, I am reminded once more that in a different world, Haywood is a bestselling writer, a household name. And I’m also reminded why that is not the case.
The premise here is an audacious one: Haywood’s Aaron Gunner is hired to prove that a police officer accused of shooting an unarmed Black man did not, in fact, do the deed. Gunner has to navigate LA, including the fraught hierarchy of the department, in order to not only figure out what happened but why he was even hired in the first place.
That’s a lot to take on but Haywood handles it deftly. It helps that he’s built up goodwill from the first two books and that carries this one home. At the heart, this is an examination of why Black people have no good choices in a system stacked against them. Haywood attempts to solve the case but as he does, he realizes that what’s going on has far broader implications. That he’s handling this imperfectly adds more weight to the story: there are no heroes here. Just survivors and killers.
Again, I like Michael Connelly. But if you really want to use fiction in order to get a full picture of how the criminal justice ecosystem impacts Black Angelenos (and by extension, Black people at large), check out Haywood’s work.