Book review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly
A surf-loving, fiercely independent, half-Hawaiian computer geek, LAPD Detective RenÃ©e Ballard likes nothing more than sleeping out on the beach near the city's busy Venice waterfront'¦
Crime writing master Michael Connelly loves springing surprises on his readers and they don’t come bigger than the refreshingly new fearless and feisty female cop who is fighting to prove herself on LA’s toughest beat… a patch once under the watchful gaze of tough-talking detective Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch.
The charismatic, principled Bosch, star of twenty-one bestselling Connelly novels but now entering senior citizenship, was always going to be a hard act to follow but ballsy Ballard is an inspired creation. On paper, she appears to be another of Connelly’s maverick cops but this tenacious new sleuth has been tasked with battling male sexism and prejudice as well as the violent crime and over-zealous bosses which were familiar components of Bosch’s remit.
Thirty-two-year-old Renée Ballard was once a promising up-and-coming detective in LAPD’s prestigious Robbery and Homicide division but left under a cloud after filing a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisor, Lt Robert Olivas.
Ballard’s claims didn’t stick and now she has been shuffled off into the notorious graveyard shift at Hollywood division – better known as the Late Show – where she works permanent nights, beginning many investigations but finishing none because each morning she has to turn over all the cases to the day staff.
As a ‘denizen of the dark,’ she is assigned to a twilight world of tragedy and violence, but when she is called to the brutal beating of transgender prostitute Ramona Ramone, left for dead in a parking lot, the tough cop is left sickened by the victim’s terrible injuries.
‘It’s a vampire case, has to be worked at night… whoever did this is big evil,’ she tells her sidekick John Jenkins, a long-serving detective only too happy to head home to his ailing wife and forget work the moment his shift ends.
Determined to track down the perpetrator, Ballard is soon on another case that she doesn’t want to part with. Cindy Haddel, a waitress in The Dancers nightclub on Sunset Boulevard was among four other people mown down with the same ‘callous malignancy’ by a gunman who escaped the scene.
Her old boss, Lt Olivas, is in charge of the case and regards Cindy as merely ‘collateral damage’ in the massacre but Ballard is not so sure, knowing that ‘the peripheral could become pertinent’ in any murder enquiry.
Against orders, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night but as the investigations entwine, Ballard’s dual investigation takes her into the dark heart of her city, her department and her own past...
The Late Show is a cracking start to Connelly’s all-action LAPD thriller series as Ballard settles into her multi-faceted role and promises to become the strong, smart new kid on a Hollywood block that harbours dark secrets and villainous crimes.
Doggedly determined and brave, this caring cop possesses an admirable sense of fair play which drives her to risk her own life in the pursuit of justice. In true detective crime fiction style, Ballard has a dark backstory and demons to conquer but she still reserves a large corner of her complex psyche to empathise with her victims and to take on prejudice whatever that might be and wherever it may be rooted.
Fast-paced, gripping and stamped all over with Connelly’s trademark stunning police procedural and authentic forensic detail, this is as close up to the real-life work of a detective you can get as we follow Ballard into the shady corners of sunny California to discover LA’s ‘big evil.’
With the exciting freshness of an intriguing new star and the comforting familiarity of the world of Harry Bosch, there is plenty to enjoy here for both Connelly’s army of existing fans and newcomers to his thrilling world of crime.
(Orion, hardback, £19.99)