In 1992, Michael Connelly hit the ground running with his debut The Black Echo that introduced LAPD detective Harry Bosch. That novel won the Edgar Award for best first novel, introduced Connelly as the heir apparent to Raymond Chandler and also helped usher in a new approach to the police procedural.
Now, 20 years later, Connelly is still writing about Harry, continuing to discover new layers to this now iconic character with increasingly complex and believable plots. The Black Box — Connelly’s 25th novel and the 19th in the Bosch series — more than proves this. Connelly is one of the best and the most consistent living crime writers.
As he has done in previous novels, Connelly mirrors contemporary issues and Los Angeles’ vagaries in The Black Box, which also boasts an edgy, labyrinthine plot. It also chronicles Harry’s role as a cop and how it has changed through the years. The novel opens in 1992, when Los Angeles is in chaos as riots pummel the city following the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King. “Flames from a thousand fires reflected like the devil dancing in the dark sky,” Connelly writes.
The violence makes good police work almost impossible as the cops try to contain the riot, mindful of their own vulnerability. Harry and his partner, Jerry Edgar, can’t even call their quick look at the shooting of Danish photojournalist Anneke Jespersen an investigation. Before they can make any determination, the case is handed off to the Riot Crimes Task Force and Harry is onto other cases.
But The Black Box is not a historical novel. Connelly quickly moves the action to 2012, where Harry is working in the cold case squad. A shell casing found at the scene of the Jespersen murder is linked to a gun used in a more recent crime. Harry, who never gives up on any case, now has to go back through 20 years of skimpy police work to find that “black box” — the key piece of evidence to explain what happened, and why.
The Black Box succinctly examines the staggering changes in attitudes, especially toward the military, technology and Los Angeles during the past 20 years. Especially intriguing is Harry’s personal growth as Connelly makes him a fresh and original character each outing.
The Florida of 2012 isn’t that much different from the Florida of the early 20th century as Michael Morris so gracefully illustrates in his fourth novel. Aside from amenities such as air-conditioning, automobiles and iPads, Florida then and now is rife with money problems, foreclosures, unscrupulous developers and chicanery posing as religion.
Set in a hardscrabble town near the end of World War I, Man in the Blue Moon is as much a story about Florida as it is about a financially strapped family trying to stay together and hold on to its property.
Ella Wallace ekes out a living tending her general store and making a home for her three sons since her opium-addicted gambler husband disappeared from the aptly named town of Dead Lakes, near Apalachicola. “On the verge of financial and emotional collapse,” Ella knows that the bank could foreclose on her store any day and a small piece of inherited land that her husband offered as collateral for gambling debts by forging her signature. Instead of making a partial payment on the mortgage, she decides to pay off the freight charge on a fancy grandfather clock her husband ordered — and paid for — before he left. Selling the clock might bring in enough money to pay her debt. But the Blue Moon Co. box doesn’t contain a clock but Lanier Stillis, her husband’s cousin. Lanier has put himself in the box to escape his violent in-laws who blame him for the death of their manipulative and possibly insane sister.
Gossip swells when Lanier begins to live in Ella’s barn and crests when it appears that he has the “healing gift” after he seemingly cures Ella’s youngest son as well as a lame mule. Embarrassed that the cousin he once idolized would abandon his family, Lanier wants to help Ella keep her land. They face insurmountable odds because Clive Gillespie, a snake of a banker who once courted Ella, desperately wants to sell the land to Brother Mabry. The charlatan preacher is convinced Ella’s acres are the true Garden of Eden.
Morris elegantly weaves in spirituality and mysticism while keeping Man in the Blue Moon grounded in reality using real Florida history. From the days of Juan Ponce de León to the person who moved here yesterday, people have flocked to Florida looking for some form of paradise. And at one point in Florida history, a minister actually was convinced the true Garden of Eden was near the Apalachicola River. Morris perfectly captures rural Florida and the ennui of Apalachicola, a vibrant port town before the Civil War, but during WWI “drowsed in a state of neither sleep nor vigor.”
Man in the Blue Moon evokes the best in Southern novels from the likes of Pat Conroy, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty or Walker Percy, with a healthy dose of mystery.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed these books for The Sun Sentinel.