Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Many crime fiction authors go in and out of fashion; some, on the other hand, create enduring characters that get and keep our interest, and don’t seem to get “stale.” One of the most enduring of these characters is arguably Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. So let’s take a closer look today at one of Bosch’s early outings, The Black Ice.
The Black Ice begins on Christmas night, when Harry Bosch hears a report on his police scanner that a body has been found in a sleazy, cheap Hollywood hotel. Bosch is annoyed that he didn’t get a call about the body since Hollywood is his territory. Feeling left out of the “loop,” Bosch goes to the scene and discovers that the dead man has been tentatively identified as Calexico “Cal” Moore, a detective who’d been a part of a special anti-drug squad. It seems that Moore has committed suicide. At first, that theory makes some sense, especially when it’s strongly hinted that Moore had “crossed” – gone “dirty.” But soon, the forensic evidence suggests that Moore might have been murdered. Bosch wants to investigate, but he’s distanced as far as possible from the case. In fact, he’s given eight other cases left unsolved by a fellow police officer who’s taken a stress-related leave of absence. When Bosch discovers that one of those cases may be related to Moore’s death, he’s convinced that there’s more to the case than a cop committing suicide because he’s “crossed.”
Bosch has a personal interest in Moore’s death, too. He had arranged a meeting with Moore to get some information on a case involving a drug-related death. At the time he’d felt that Moore was holding something back. Now, it seems that case, too, is related to Moore’s death. The more Bosch looks into the case, the more strongly he believes that Moore was murdered and that Moore’s murder had to do with the illegal smuggling of “black ice” – a potent mixture of drugs – from Mexico. When he finds out that the source of the drugs is the same town in which Moore grew up, he decides to find the answers he’s looking for in Mexico. So Bosch heads south, much to the consternation of his superiors, who want the Moore case quashed, and the DEA, who don’t want him really involved. In the end, Bosch finds out the surprising truth about Cal Moore and his death.
One theme that runs throughout this novel is the effect of the past on the present. Moore’s past, in particular, is central to the novel. As Bosch searches for answers in the Moore case, he comes to believe that the more he knows about Moore, the closer he’ll get to the truth. He finds out as much as he can about Moore’s childhood, his time at the police academy and his time on the Los Angeles police force. As Bosch finds out new information about Moore, the reader learns, bit by bit, about the kind of person Moore was. Each piece of information that Bosch gets shows him that Moore’s background has a lot to do with the decisions he’s made and with his death.
Bosch’s own past has also affected him, and we see this in the novel, too. Bosch served in Viet Nam, and his wartime experiences affect his reactions to the investigation, to some of the climactic moments in the novel, and to Moore. Bosch’s family background also affects him, and we learn about this as well. He’s the illegitimate son of a prosperous lawyer, and never actually met his biological father until just as the old man was dying. Most of Bosch’s growing-up years were spent in foster homes or reform schools. Those experiences have profoundly affected Bosch’s attitude towards the past, towards others and towards Moore, and we learn about them bit by bit, as the novel moves on. Connelly uses flashbacks to tell some of Bosch’s story, and weaves those flashbacks into the narrative. So as Bosch examines Moore’s past, he also examines his own.
Another element we see in The Black Ice is the geography of the area. The story begins and ends in Los Angeles, and we get a real sense of the city in Connelly’s description. Here’s just one example:
“Bosch decided to take the long way down out of the hills, driving on Woodrow Wilson until it crossed Mulholland and then taking the winding route through Nichols Canyon. He loved the views of the hills covered with blue wisteria and violet ice plants, topped with aging million-dollar homes that gave the city its aura of fading glory.”
Bosch also spends a very eventful few days in the twin border towns of Calexico, California and Mexicali, Mexico. Here’s a description of the town of Mexicali:
“The boulevard was lined with old shops and industrial businesses. Their pastel-painted facades had been darkened by exhaust fumes from the passing river of metal and it was all quite depressing to Bosch…He noticed several men, many wearing straw cowboy hats, standing in the circle or leaning against the base of the monument. The stared into the sea of traffic. Day laborers waiting for work.”
Possibly the most compelling element of this novel, though is the character of Harry Bosch. In fact, the novel is as much about the unfolding of Bosch’s character as it is about Calexico Moore. Bosch is a complicated person who seems to be a study in contrasts. On one hand, he is reflective:
“He [Bosch] went out on the back porch and sat and drank and thought about things until early into the morning hours. The glow of the fire across the pass was gone. But now something burned within himself.
Calexico Moore had apparently answered a question that all people carry deep within themselves – that Harry Bosch, too, had longed to answer: I found out who I was.
On the other hand, Bosch is also a man of action. He gets a rush of adrenaline-induced excitement, for instance, while he is breaking into a building where he suspects some illegal activity is going on. He wants to be involved in a DEA bust of a Mexican drugs ring, and gets the same rush again, on the night the team moves in on the ring.
Bosch’s personal life is also complicated. He himself knows that he’s lonely. He lives in a house up in a canyon with no-one but a semi-feral coyote for company. He even describes himself as hollow:
He had learned to fill that hollowness with work. Sometimes with drink and the jazz saxophone. But never people. He never let anyone in all the way.”
And yet, we can also see that he would like to share himself with someone. In The Black Ice, for instance, he has relationships with two very different women and in those relationships, we can see how a big part of Bosch would like very much to let his guard down. However, his dedication to the job, his determination to put things right, and his own personal demons make that difficult.
The complex character of Harry Bosch and the Southern California/Mexico setting are woven throughout this novel, and the novel’s focus on the gradually-evolving story of Cal Moore keeps the plot moving. But what’s your view? Have you read The Black Ice? What elements did you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 11 October/Tuesday 12 October – The ABC Murders – Agatha Christie
Monday 18 October/Tuesday 19 October – Gallows View – Peter Robinson
Monday 25 October/Tuesday 26 October - While My Pretty One Sleeps – Mary Higgins Clark