Introducing an excellent new detective character
Renée Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing none, as each morning she turns everything over to the day shift. A once up-and-coming detective, she’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.
But one night she catches two assignments she doesn’t want to part with: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Ballard is determined not to give up at dawn. Against orders and her partner’s wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night. As the investigations entwine, they pull her closer to her own demons and the reason she won’t give up her job, no matter what the department throws at her.
I recently binge-watched the first three seasons of Bosch, the TV series based on Connelly’s main series. I absolutely loved it, and that gave me the necessary kick up the backside to start reading Connelly’s novels. As it happened, I received a review copy of The Late Show, so I decided to start here. This is a fantastic introduction of a new character, and a great crime novel. This is the first novel by Michael Connelly that I’ve read. It will not be my last.
As a first book in a series, we’re only just getting to know Ballard, but Connelly does a great job of giving her enough background to feel real, while not overdoing it. Despite this being our first meeting, she already feels pretty much fully-realized. She’s a great new character, and one who I think will open up a great many possibilities for the series to come. (I’m sure there will be a cross-over with Bosch, eventually, too.) Ballard is functionally homeless: officially, she lives with her grandmother, but in reality she sleeps on the beach in a tent, benefiting from the relaxed camping rules during the day. This also allows her to surf every morning (she’s from Hawaii), to clear her head after her shifts. Like Bosch, she’s something of a loose cannon, not entirely respectful for the chain of command. A classic trope, but it doesn’t feel forced. As she investigates on her own, a few of her decisions get her into serious trouble; but we also see her pull off some inspired investigative tricks. She doesn’t play too well with others, creating and enforcing a certain distance between herself and her colleagues. This could have made it difficult to connect with her as a reader, but Connelly writes so well this wasn’t an issue.
The Late Show centres around a couple of cases — a mass-shooting at a night club, and the savage beating and attempted murder of a transgender prostitute. Other, smaller cases appear over the course of the story, but these two are the main anchors for the novel. Through Ballard’s involvement (official and otherwise), we learn more about her co-workers, superiors, and also the unacceptable event that led to her being placed on the night shift (an overly-aggressive superior with a fragile ego and delicate masculinity who couldn’t take no for an answer). She navigates the whispers in her department, her dismissive superior. She’s bonding with her new(ish) partner. She’s dealing with her previous partner, who didn’t step up to defend her in the past. And then there’s the possibility that another cop was involved in the club shooting…
I realized while reading this that I don’t read many police procedurals. As it turns out, I really like them — I loved how understated much of this novel is, stripped of the Hollywood machismo, Michael Bay-esque explosive action that can dominate some crime novels. (Not that I dislike those novels, it’s just very refreshing to read a novel that just tells it like it is.) There’s a series of scenes of genuine peril that were also presented in a non-stylized and unexaggerated manner. It made everything feel more real, more claustrophobic and terrifying.
It is clear to me why Connelly’s novels are so successful: he’s an incredible talent, who can tell gripping stories grounded by an authentic realism. It feels redundant to say this, so far into his career. I’m late to the party, sure, but let’s celebrate that I arrived at all!
An excellent crime novel, I am definitely a convert. I’ll be reading and (hopefully) catching up with the Bosch series over the course of the next few months.
The Late Show is very highly recommended to all fans of crime fiction.