Two Kind of Crime Fiction

The wildest ride in modern crime novel exoticum. A novel so steeped in milieu that it feels as if you’ve blasted to mars in the grip of a demon who won’t let you go. Read this book, savor the language-it’s the last-and the most compelling word in thrillers.
—James Ellroy

“Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle.”
― Jim Thompson

There always seems to be two kinds writers of crime fiction, the type of character who thinks even the worst criminal can be turned, change, redeemed; and the type that knows better, that knows that there’s nothing down there in that pit of darkness worth redeeming, that evil is not some moral thing attached to people but an actual metaphysical power, a thing that seeps in from the outside, that’s alien and abyssal without anything human in it. The first type of writer seems to have this progressive idea that one can reform such beings, while the other more cynical and pessimistic writer knows that the only thing that can be reformed is the idiocy of thinking one could make evil better, cure it, turn it to the good side. Such are the markers of deception and self-deception, we love to think people can change, that if they’d just been born in a better situation, been taught a little bit more about hope and optimism things might have turned out differently. The pessimist stands neutral in this hope business, doesn’t question the good, bad, or ugly. No. The pessimist just looks at what’s there in front of his nose, at the thing living there inside us all — implacable, inhuman, and indifferent to all our dreams and hopes alike.

“There are thirty-two ways to write a story, and I’ve used every one, but there is only one plot – things are not as they seem.”
― Jim Thompson

Harry Bosch and Michael Connelly

That’s justice,” she said, nodding at the statue. “She doesn’t hear you. She doesn’t see you. She can’t feel you and won’t speak to you. Justice, Detective Bosch, is just a concrete blonde.

—Michael Connelly

As I’m watching the Bosch series from the beginning what interests me most is the politics, corruption, and deliberate stupidity of the muckety-mucks at the top, how small and insignificant power mongers always seem to be there in the background watching, waiting, biding their time to move up the ladder, use others in that process, and find ways to trash them, throw them to the wolves, and generally dispose of them when their purpose is done. The manipulating psychopaths in the street are nothing compared to the political psychopaths of the machine that runs the cops like a private business for profit even as they mask it as a service for public good.

Harry Bosch is a broken man, with a troubled past that haunts him throughout season one. Bosch, an orphan, his mother a prostitute who was killed and thrown in a trash-bin when he was young seems like a wounded knight righting the wrongs in a world that isn’t worth righting. Raised up in a house of horror, an institutional orphanage in the inner-city, Bosch has been anything but a model citizen. His rage at his mother’s death, at the State that put him in a hellhole where they threw young boys into solitary confinement for various infractions, Bosch came up the system scarred and marred by its insipid and destructive power over young men’s lives. Like a wounded angel he seems hell-bent on uncovering corruption wherever it lies, yet this dark side hasn’t turned him totally cynical and bitter. No. He seems like a tarnished Marlowe alright, but one that has seen the rough side and come out fighting for honesty and a sense of individual decency.  Even the woman he falls in love with is a corrupt little hustler, seeking her way up the corrupt ladder. She flubs the dub in an arrest, pulls her firearm and wounds herself then tries to pin it on the perp, but Bosch knows she didn’t and tells her to own up to it. She of course sees him as pure shit from then on siding with the perp against her, when Bosch is only doing the Marlowe thing trying to be an honest cop.

We see Bosch dealing with an ex-Wife who is a Profiler and Gambler, his daughter at that stage of rebellious teenagerly growth, and a police department where the blues and bulls seem always at odds. Most of the actors rise above the cliched responses. Harry’s partner played by Jamie Hector is smart and affable, a conscientious young black man facing his own problems plays it by the book most of the time. He seems to know Harry’s weaknesses and helps reign him in even as he supports him. There’s several other good supporting actors and roles in the series which keeps the ball rolling. Even the battle between the Lieutenant played by Amy Aquino whose life we see from time to time with her lesbian lover revealed, a child by a former marriage and her hard-nosed ability to fend off the enemy of both Bosch and her, Captain Pounds. Pounds seems to have some bad history with Bosch and rides him throughout season one. There’s the other grouping of the upper-tier echelons both in the department and in the political machinery that play out a sub-theme in the overall season, but I’ll let the wary reader watch the series to see that play out.

The investigation in season one plays out against the backdrop of two criminal cases. Bosch is called in to investigate the murder of a young man whose bones were discovered in the Hollywood Hills. The other case involves a psychopathic serial killer whose been caught red-handed and sees Bosch’s investigation on the tv while awaiting trial. The playout of these two intermingling storylines gives us the entangled sweep of the darkness both on the mean streets of L.A. and in the world of police politics and its corruption from the lowest to highest levels of city government. Bosch caught in-between the darkness of the streets, his own haunted past, and the politics of the State becomes the main theme that keeps the plot moving. Most of it seems cliched from an aesthetic standpoint, maybe because I’ve seen such things play out in both great and not so great crime and detective fiction in the past. But like any show like this it’s the actors that make the difference and this one is a winner in that regard.

Of course, in the series things aren’t all black-and-white, Bosch is dealing with all that childhood garbage as he wanders the City of Angels more like a fallen angel than a detective out of the Hammett mold. His own dark past pervades his hunt of various sex offenders and killers in this first season. In the typical mold so predictable Connelly’s script is pretty lame in a lot of ways, but the acting by Welliver and the other old character actors seems to pull it off. Even though Connelly is a successful crime fiction writer I’ve never truly found his works to be all that great, he’s too professional, knows the whole gamut of the tradition too well, too slick in his echoes of the original masters for my taste. Nothing really original in him. He’s a sort of commercial writer whose knowledge of Hard-Boiled fiction and its second gen writers for George V. Higgins to George Pelicanos etc. puts him in that after the fall literary worker position. His writing is adequate but nothing special, and maybe that’s my issue, he’s part of the old gin mill circuit writers seeking only one thing to make a buck off every book rather than actually delivering a dark tome on the state of our world, it’s corruption as it is not as a commercialized assemblage of echoes form previous eras. He doesn’t take chances. That’s why the Bosch series, although good, comes off trite and commercial for me because it repeats the cliches of past writers rather than creates something new out of our contemporary setting.