Good old-fashioned detective work means classic Michael Connelly

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The Late Show is Michael Connelly’s 30th novel and comes 25 years after his first. I can only surmise that I have missed a lot having started only recently. How very different this crime thriller is to his previous one which in itself is admirable.

Meet Renee Ballard, an astute detective who formally challenged her superior officer (Olivas) with sexual harassment and lost her case when her work partner and friend Ken Chastain betrayed her (even when he knew the case was true). In the LAPD a punishment in the workplace is to be moved to “the late show”, clocking on at 11.00 pm, having no set workstation, working through midnight and the early desolate hours of the morning, filing all documentation and then handing cases and information over to the day shift.

Yes, it suits her present partner (Jenkins) not to have to follow through and to sign off and more or less forget it, (he has a wife who needs so much medical day care). Not so Renee Ballard. She has thrived on investigative problem solving, caring and follow through from the first moment she chose to join the LAPD.

The scenario is set for one particular late show shift where two cases occur almost simultaneously on their shift. Firstly a woman prostitute (Ramona) is found dumped, nude and almost beaten to death and, on the same shift, a young woman is shot in a night club (along with several others).  At the hospital, Ballard finds Ramona in an induced coma. She is also a man. Her bashing and multiple bruising is brutal and severe. Could it be that brass knuckles were used? This is the only clue as well as the words spoken by Ramona “the upside down house” before being comatose.

The second case is that of Cindy, the young waitress who has been shot. Cindy does not survive. This same crime scene has witnessed multiple shootings and deaths. Ballard and Jenkins go back to the major crime scene which is crawling with police, forensics, detectives and the media. However, this is not part of their brief although Ballard absorbs all that she can.

No wonder Ballard is compelled to follow each case, as much as possible keeping to ‘by the book regulations’. The latter is an imperative for her with her history and the undermining enmity dished out to her by Olivas at every opportunity. She does not know who to trust in the force and so works alone whenever possible. She also lives alone, apart from her dog Lola. Yes, she is headstrong and often abrupt, bordering on belligerent assertiveness. What a character!       

Connelly shapes an intricate plot around Ballard and the two cases. The revelation of her personal life and circumstances gradually emerge developing in the reader a deeper empathy, understanding and admiration for her.

Complexity and tension build. However, the first climax is totally unexpected (and only two-thirds the way in) and shocking in its ferocity and intent.

Many perverse, evil characters on the wrong side of the law are entrenched in the pages as are so many divisions of law enforcement and every-day people. I sometimes lose track of the, who, why, when and what in this type of story but not so in this enthralling read. I was almost afraid to put this novel down in case I ‘lose the plot’. Not so, Connelly repeats enough information in different settings so that this does not happen.

As should be the situation in a crime thriller there is no way of pre-empting what will happen to the key players, particularly Ballard or Olivas. A convincing and enthralling finale that leaves the pages open for more encounters with Ballard. Michael Connelly continues to captivate with his brilliance as a writer.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly is available now from Dymocks. Click here to learn more.