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The Evolution of Harry Bosch

27 January 2019

From Crime Reads:

On January 21, 1992, Little, Brown and Co. published the debut novel of a writer so obscure that even the newspaper where he worked, the Los Angeles Times, did not seem to notice. The upstart crow was Michael Connelly and his debut, The Black Echo, introduced the world to a hard-boiled LAPD homicide detective named Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. The Black Echo managed to find an audience and win the Edgar Award for best debut mystery. Thanks to his tireless “always be writing” work ethic, the prolific Connelly went on to publish thirty-two novels, twenty-one in the Bosch series. His novels have been translated into more than forty foreign languages and sold more than 70 million copies. Despite that success, Connelly is showing no sign of slowing down. With 2018’s Dark Sacred Night, he pairs Bosch with a younger LAPD homicide detective Renee Ballard, and the new partnership has been receiving glowing reviews. In recent years Connelly has even transcended print; in 2015 he transformed his hero into the eponymous subject of a series on Amazon Prime.  A fifth season of “Bosch” is slated to air in early 2019 and the network is promising a sixth after that.

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I read the Bosch books in chronological order and the experience has been an enlightening one. I discovered that although Detective Bosch has had many partners over the years, his most important partner has been with him from the start. That partner is the city of Los Angeles, the city Bosch serves and protects. The pairing is intentional. “Bosch has allowed me to chronicle the evolution of a city over 20 years,” the author told the UK Independent in 2016. “There is a certain aura about Los Angeles; it’s not necessarily a beautiful thing, but it’s part of Harry Bosch.”

The author has now been holding his mirror to the City of Angels and its police department for more than 25 years, and he’s right, the images, especially for city leaders and department brass, are not always pretty. But thanks to Connelly’s keen eye for observation, and his reporter’s instinct for cultivating sources, especially within the LAPD, the Bosch books, even in their most audacious fictions, remain grounded in fact. For my money, no author, in any genre—fact or fiction—has written more convincingly, over a more sustained basis, about Los Angeles, about the LAPD or about homicide.

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The first three novels in the series, The Black Echo, The Black Ice and The Concrete Blonde, are the books where Connelly introduced Bosch and found his early footing as a novelist. By coincidence—although, according to Bosch, “there are no coincidences”—this trio of stories also straddle one of the most important social events in Los Angeles’s history, the divide that Bosch calls “BK and AK.” In The Concrete Blonde, published in 1995, Bosch describes the seismic changes the city experienced as “Before King” and “After King,” referring to the citywide chaos that gripped Los Angeles in April 1992, after the acquittal of four white cops for their roles in the videotaped beating of African-American motorist Rodney King. For Bosch, that line of demarcation is every bit as monumental as BC and AD.

The Concrete Blonde is the first Bosch novel to incorporate the Rodney King case and its fallout on the LAPD and the city. Civil Rights lawyer Honey “Money” Chandler has Harry on the ropes in a federal civil rights case arising from Harry’s shooting of a serial killer. To defend the shooting and save his career, Harry must also solve the riddle posed by a new “copycat” serial killer. It’s a great read, balancing a courtroom drama with a police procedural as Harry races to find the copycat killer before his court case goes to the jury. The Concrete Blonde received national attention when President Clinton was spotted with a copy under his arm while on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The press could not resist the comic irony and the tabloid attention helped put Connelly on the bestseller list, where he has remained ever since.

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After the success of The Concrete Blonde, Connelly hit his stride as a crime writer.  Between 1996’s The Last Coyote and City of Bones in 2002, Connelly produced a string of near flawless Bosch novelsThese are the stories that define Bosch’s character and his mission for the remainder of the series. In the opening chapter of the The Last Coyote Bosch articulates his mission to a police shrink pressing him about his motivations.  Bosch tells the psychologist “in homicide there is one rule that I have when it comes to the cases I get.  Everybody counts or nobody counts.” When asked to explain his rule, Bosch answers: “Just what I said.  Everybody counts or nobody counts. That’s it. It means I bust my ass to make a case whether it’s a prostitute or the mayor’s wife.  That’s my rule.”

Seven years later, in City of Bones, Bosch elaborated on his code, using the iconic blue uniforms of his LAPD as a touchstone:  “I have faith and I have a mission. Call it blue religion, call it whatever you like. It’s the belief that those bones came out of the ground for a reason. That they came out of the ground for me to find, and for me to do something about. And that’s what holds me together and keeps me going.”

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One Comments to “The Evolution of Harry Bosch”

  1. “Who’s Harry Bosch?” is one of my favorite John Belushi movies.

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