Renee Ballard is a detective working the graveyard shift, nights, in Hollywood. She handles whatever comes along, and whatever comes along is why the cops call the beat the Late Show. Ballard’s been exiled to the shift because of she filed a sexual assault beef against a lieutenant, and her then partner didn’t back her up. Now she works nights and passes on her cases to the relevant desks in the morning; they follow up and investigate. At least most of the time she does. The Late Show is Michael Connelly’s 30th novel (in 25 years). Renee Ballard is his first new series character since Mickey Haller made his debut way back in 2005, and like Haller, she is instantly convincing. The novel starts with her shift: moving quickly with her through a busy night highlighted by a mass killing. You’re already into Ballard’s head before you begin to learn the backstory, and when she’s slow to pass on a case, and manoeuvres to stay in the loop on the big one, you know what she’s all about. I interviewed Michael Connelly in front of a sellout crowd at Waterstone’s Piccadilly to celebrate publication of The Late Show, and suggested that, in F Scott Fitzgerald’s phrase, ‘character is action’, and this book, like the Bosch series, like most of his books, was driven by the character of its protagonist. He said he always had a one-word description of each character in his mind: for Bosch it was ‘relentless’ (which ruined my next question, which would have been about Harry’s ‘dogged persistence’), while for Ballard it was ‘fierce’. And fierce she is, relentlessly fierce. It is Ballard’s character that makes the novel work, and draws the reader in. She is both unusual and believable. She marches to the beat of a different drummer, finishing her shifts and often surfing and sleeping in a tent on the beach. At times it seems she is running on a store of built up resentment, a refusal to let things lie, that is fierce indeed. There are comparisons to be made with Bosch, some of which Connelly himself hadn’t noticed, or played down in favour of concentrating on the differences. She lost her father, with whom she lived after her parents split, early, so she was, like Bosch, alone as she grew up, despite the presence of her grandmother, at whose house she lives when she needs a house or a grandmother. Her partner, Jenkins, is similar in some ways to Bosch’s Jerry Edgar: he’s basically a good cop, a loyal partner, but he has other things on his mind too, so keeps the job in its place.
Obviously, Ballard is at odds with at least part of the LAPD bureaucracy, which is a defining point with Bosch. This is a key to The Late Show, because as the stories intertwine, her partner’s old betrayal, and the lieutenant’s animosity, both figure large. The story resolves itself with a set-piece scene that works, but will likely work better on a screen: I asked Michael if he had considered that, or if the one hand he keeps on the Bosch TV series had an influence, and he replied that neither was a conscious decision. One thing about the character-driven series novels Connelly writes, they continue to work as procedural thrillers as well. Ballard is too good a character not to reappear soon, and Connelly is too good a series writer not to draw Harry Bosch into her orbit, or her into his, somewhere along the line. As he said, he likes to plant seeds in his novels, which he can bring to full flowering in the future. Until then, the future is now, and it’s Renee Ballard. This one’s a keeper.
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
Orion, £19.99, ISBN 9781409145547
This review appeared first at Michael Carlson’s Irresistible Targets (http://irresitibletargets.blogspot.com)