Harry Bosch of the Los Angeles Police Department has a birthday during the course of “The Black Box.” But as Michael Connelly’s readers well know, Harry’s not a party guy. He comes home to find that his 16-year-old daughter, Maddie, has made him a culinarily ambitious birthday dinner.
“Wow, smells good,” and, “Can’t wait,” are among the comments he makes to Maddie about her cooking. Harry’s not much of a conversationalist either.
But Maddie hits a bull’s-eye with her father because she has seasoned the meal with Pepper: Art Pepper, whose jazz recordings are among Harry’s favorite things in the whole wide world. In the same mellow spirit, she serves Harry his favorite beer. Party over. Harry can’t resist the urge to snoop through his daughter’s backpack and find out whether she bought the beer using fake ID. She didn’t, but her brooding, suspicious father sure knows how to kill a mood.
The more important celebration involving “The Black Box” is that it is marks 20 years of Harry Bosch books, the first of which was “The Black Echo,” in 1992. It’s also Connelly’s 25th novel, because he writes them at an unstoppably fast clip. Too many of them show signs of haste. But “The Black Box” is a standout, thanks to thoughtful plotting, the kind that ultimately jigsaws all the pieces of a story into place. And the book’s 20-year time span gives it bigger ambitions than some of Connelly’s more tossed-off efforts.
The start of “The Black Box” finds Harry Bosch as a street cop on the riot-torn streets of South Central. He is trying to help subdue the Rodney King riots. And he is exceptionally aware of race for two additional reasons. First, Harry is the only white cop in his unit, and his colleagues warn him to be careful. Second, the woman whose corpse Harry finds in an alley was Anneke Jespersen, a Danish blonde, instantly nicknamed “Snow White.”
The gangbanger neighborhood in which she was killed does not offer up easy answers. Hoods with nicknames like 2 Small and True Story are grilled at first, but the investigation goes nowhere. And then 20 years go by.
The box of the title is supposed to contain whatever evidence exists in this very cold case. There’s not much: just a bullet casing, and that’s about it. Harry has soon used the casing to trace the murder weapon – and discovers that the Beretta used to kill Anneke has a mysterious history of its own.
This may sound small, but it’s about to go global. What’s most enjoyable about “The Black Box” is Connelly’s gift for smoothly escalating a back-alley shooting into an international conspiracy, as if this were a perfectly normal exposition trick. The only nonspoilers that can be mentioned here are that the dead woman was a photojournalist, and that her killing may not have had much to do with the South Central riots at all.