Crime Fiction: <i>The Late Show</i>  by Michael Connelly

The Late Show (Little, Brown) brings the debut of an exciting new lead character for Los Angeles author Michael Connelly. Known around the world for his gripping series of novels featuring now-retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch, as well as his successful series starring “Lincoln Lawyer” Mickey Haller, Connelly has embarked on yet another new series—this one strongly based, he tells the reader, on an actual detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.

In the jaded jargon of the LAPD, the shift between midnight and 8 a.m. is known as the Late Show. It’s not only because it comes at the end of the day; it’s also because that’s when a lot of the criminal elements surface at local nightclubs and on the streets, at 24-hour service stations and convenience stores, taking advantage of the darkness to ply their trade, whether it’s drug dealing, prostitution, or simply robbery.

Thirty-something Detective Renée Ballard works the Late Show. It wasn’t her choice. After reporting that she’d been sexually harassed by her superior officer, her then partner—who could have confirmed Ballard’s allegations—didn’t stand up for her. As a result, she was bounced from Robbery-Homicide down to exile on the Hollywood Division’s night shift. It’s a slot few officers like. For one thing, the incidents she encounters on the street during those early hours are turned over to daytime teams at the end of her shift, so there’s no continuity, and given their caseload, often no follow-through. This is frustrating for Ballard, who only wants to close cases and see justice done for their victims.

The half-Hawaiian, half-white Ballard has already experienced enough disappointments and grief over the years. She was 14 when she saw her father drown while surfing. Her mother was never part of her life, and Ballard’s present family comprises only her rescue dog, Lola, and her grandmother, whom she sees sporadically.

While working a routine graveyard shift, checking out the transgender victim of a vicious assault who lies in a coma in a nearby hospital, Ballard is called away to a local club known as Dancers, where multiple attacks have just taken place. Four people are dead and a fifth victim is fighting for her life. Even in L.A. that’s a big deal, and all available police detectives and forensics support folks are focused on this case.

Leading the investigation is Lieutenant Robert Olivas. That’s bad news for Ballard, and not much better news for him. You see, Olivas is the senior officer she had accused of sexual harassment two years ago. Hoping to sideline her, Olivas gives Ballard a specific assignment: notify the victims’ next of kin—his not-so-subtle way of saying he doesn’t want Ballard anywhere near the Dancers case.

But Ballard doesn’t let go of things that easily, and when another cop working the same investigation, Detective Kenny Chastain—Ballard’s former Robbery-Homicide partner—is found executed in his own driveway, she decides to get to the bottom of these crimes, regardless of her orders.

The challenge facing this gutsy young detective is to avoid the twin fates of (1) a villain someday getting the best of her, and (2) the equally deadly nature of the job itself. As a colleague tells Ballard at one point:

“You have a job, detective, that takes you into the bleakest side of the human soul … If you go into the darkness, the darkness goes into you. You then have to decide what to do with it. How to keep safe from it. How to keep it from hallowing you out.”

The Late Show marks yet another milestone in Michael Connelly’s already impressive fiction-writing career. With an engaging protagonist, a complex back story, and Connelly’s characteristically crackling dialogue and meticulous attention to detail, this series premiere has me clamoring for a sequel. And I bet I’m not alone in that. ◊

 

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction reviewer based in Quebec. His book reviews and author interviews have appeared in several Canadian papers as well as on such websites as Spinetingler Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Shots, Crime Time, Reviewing the Evidence and Amazon.com. Napier also has an award-winning crime-fiction site, Deadly Diversions. His first mystery novel, Legacy (FriesenPress), introducing British series sleuth Detective Inspector Colin McDermott, was released this last spring.

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