In book three of the Harry Bosch series, Connelly finally hits his stride. The preceding two books frequently referenced the lethal shooting of a serial killer, a career-changer that resulted in Harry being transferred out of the glamorous (?!) Robbery-Homicide Division and into the hinterlands in Hollywood. In The Concrete Blonde, the case is being tried in a civil court. Harry’s refused to plead or settle, and is making do with a lawyer from the D.A.’s office against a top-notch civil rights attorney Honey Chandler.
The tale opens with the very scene where it all began, Bosch and a streetwalker informant watching the apartment of a man who is possibly The Dollmaker, a serial killer who rapes and kills his victims, and then garishly applied makeup to their faces. We segue into the courtroom, where Harry’s trial is about to begin. During recess, he gets a call from his lieutenant, asking him to come to a homicide scene. They were led there by a note echoing the handwriting and style of The Dollmaker, and the information in the rhyme has led detectives to a woman buried in concrete. Harry is sure in his gut that he shot the right man, so is this the work of a copycat or is Harry wrong?
It’s an reasonably intriguing premise–aside from Harry’s gut doing the detecting–made urgent by the trial. To add to the tension, it appears someone has leaked information to the prosecuting attorney, so it isn’t long before Harry and his somewhat inept attorney are threatened with contempt of court. The back and forth from the courtroom to solving the mystery of the woman in concrete keep the pace moving. His relationship with Sylvia provides a counterpoint to the sordidness of the case and the trial.
One of the strange things about the series for me is the 80s setting. It’s so odd to think of a time of pagers and public telephones. In-time information isn’t quite as much of a lynch pin in this case, so it’s easier to ignore. There’s a couple of red herrings, the first quite obvious, the second less so, but the law of character conservation holds. I will note that it’s a relief for a mystery-thriller to not feel the need to explore the serial-killer POV.
Although Connelly still has a rather flat, simplistic writing style, he seems to be improving stylistically, or at least allowing himself to drift away from the narrow confines of Harry’s basic world-view. A couple of points was almost poetic, as Harry muses at various points about the nature of justice.
“The lack of hospitality exists because the federal government does not want its courthouse to give even the appearance that justice may be slow, or nonexistent… There is enough of that going on across Spring Street in the County Criminal Courts building. Every day the benches in the hallways of every floor are clogged with those who wait. Mostly they are women and children, their husbands or fathers or lovers held in lockup. Mostly they are black or brown. Mostly the benches look like crowded life rafts–women and children first–with people pressed together and cast adrift, waiting, always waiting, to be found.”
A game changer for me as well, I’ll definitely be moving on with the series.