Thursday, February 21, 2013

Of Concrete Blondes and the Garden of Earthly Delights

"Try The Concrete Blonde," the homeless guy told me. "It's really good, and, besides, Slick Willie likes it."

"Slick Willie?"

"Yeah, Slick Willie...ya know -- Clinton," he said with a deep chuckle. "Some popza snapped a pic with the Blonde under his arm. At least Hillary can't chuck him in the doghouse 'bout this babe cuz she's just a book; Connelly's books don't suck."

It was sometime in the mid-90s, dusk had settled on the City by the Sea, and the homeless guy was a fellow I often saw at the Library on Fridays, which was when the Friends of the Library had their book sales. Larry, the homeless guy, and me might be worlds apart on most everything, but we could talk books, and often did.

As usual, I was extolling the virtues of mystery writers decades entombed, and venting about the lack of good modern writers. Sure, you had your Joe Wambaughs, Elmore Leonards, and Robert Parkers. but where were the Ellery Queens, Rex Stouts and John Dickson Carrs? Where were the J.J. Marrics? The Leslie Charterises? The Raymond Chandlers? Sure, thrillers and action and bloodletting by the gallon, but where were the writers who still practiced in the classic mode, still believed in fair play, still had their knights of justice patrol mean streets without themselves being touched by the darkness? So, he suggested The Concrete Blonde, Michael Connelly's third book chronicling the world of LAPD Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, the first two being Black Echo (1992) and Black Ice (1993). I read it, and Larry was right -- Connelly's book didn't suck.

Michael Connelly (l), playing poker with (l to r) James Patterson, Stephen J. Cannell,
and the supposedly fictional mystery author Richard Castle.
Michael Connelly, a former crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has managed to write a Harry Bosch novel every year or two, totally to 19 with the publication of The Gods of Guilt in 2013. In a recent interview with Mystery Scene Magazine, Connelly said, "When I wrote my first novel twenty years ago, I never guessed that I'd be writing about the same character twenty years later."

Two paintings by artist Hieronymus Bosch, after whom Connelly's detective was named. Though
Bosch lived hundreds of years ago, one could almost believe he had seen modern Los Angeles.
Harry Bosch, a Vietnam vet, has a moral code that has kept him out of trouble as often as it has plunged him into trouble. When Connelly wrote Black Echo -- he was still a crime reporter with the Times who depended upon the good will of the LAPD for him to do his job -- he worried that the book might alienate his police contacts, but, as it turned out, the opposite was true. The good cops either saw themselves in Harry Bosch or saw someone they would want to be, a modern knight errant who walked through tides of evil without being sucked under.

Over the years, I've read all the Harry Bosch novels, though not always in the order written (there were some spoilers but nothing egregious), and I have to admit to being very fond of Harry. Bosch is yet another example of why our best heroes are fictional. And he's become quite real to many people.
Harry Bosch's house overlooking the Hollywood Freeway.
Not only is Harry Bosch fully fleshed out as a character, but the Los Angeles through which he moves is the same darkness-infested city in which Connelly worked as a crime reporter, a city revealed to perfection in the video Blue Neon Nights: Michael Connelly's Los Angeles, a promotion received by those who bought The Narrows (2004); one of the most interesting moments in that video is when Chief of Police William J. Bratton announces at an official function that Harry Bosch, who had retired due to moral conflicts, would return to the LAPD thanks to a special program that allowed recently retired detectives to work for a limited time at their old jobs. As far as I know, that is the only time a fictional character (or is he fictional?) was asked by the LAPD to return to duty. If that does not impart a sense of verisimilitude to Harry Bosch beyond what can be reasonably expected through an author's mere words, I don't know what does. Unlike other series detectives (such as Nero Wolfe or Ellery Queen), Harry Bosch always works in the present, and ages at a normal rate -- the debacle with Rodney King happened just as long ago for Harry as for us. Lacking flashbacks and stories set in earlier times (as Conan Doyle did with The Hound of the Baskervilles), we can expect the last Harry Bosch novel to be sometime around 2016, when his new retirement date (it has already been extended twice and is at the maximum allowed) goes into effect. One hopes that it will not, of course, be the end of Harry Bosch, but all things, good and bad, must eventually's the way of the world, even, it seems, in Harry Bosch's world.

Harry Bosch's Los Angeles is so real, you can map it.

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