Little Brown, 1997, 383 pages, C$31.95 hc, ISBN 0-316-15244-7
The biggest problem with crime fiction nowadays is that a lot of it tends to be written as part of a series. You know the setup: One author will create a really good protagonist, and then re-use him in multiple books. Never mind the unlikeliness of someone going though all of these adventure; it seems to be the norm.
Publishers will undoubtedly tell you that this is a great way to sell more books. If a reader likes one book, then s/he’ll be more likely to try the next book in the series. For the authors, it arguably allows them to concentrate on the all-important plot and proceed with an already-established protagonist in a familiar environment.
Unfortunately, there is a darker side to this practice. The most significant is that this assumed background gets more inclusive as the number of books piles up. Readers jumping into a series in mid-stream can be bewildered. It becomes a major challenge for an author to find ways to integrate this background in their newest novel to allow them to pick up new readers. (The limitations imposed by the existing background are of no relevance to this review and will thoughtfully be ignored here.)
Trunk Music is the fifth book in Michael Connelly’s series about an LAPD detective with the unlikely name of Hieronymus (“Harry”) Bosch. Novice readers need not worry about jumping in mid-stream, however: Bosch begins the novel by opening his first case since coming back from disciplinary leave. As Harry gets back into the Homicide-solving business, we readers are offered the opportunity to meet with his new colleagues and reflect with the protagonist about how his job has changed. Nice.
Furthermore, Harry’s first case isn’t your boring run-of-the-mill murder: The victim is discovered stuffed into the back trunk of his car, a white Rolls-Royce. His name: Tony Aliso. His profession: Movie producer. Of course, things are about to get far more complex. The wife reacts strangely. The Organized Crime unit reacts strangely. Internal Affairs reacts strangely. We’re in for a suitably twisty maze of a plot.
Almost every interesting element of crime fiction is present in Trunk Music: California, Murder, Las Vegas, Double Agents, Theft, Escapes, Hollywood, Mafia, Romance, Blackmail, Los Angeles, Internal Affairs, Racism, Prostitution, Cars, Old Flames, Gambling, Corruption, Interrogations, Movies, FBI… the list goes on. The result is a complex novel that uncharacteristically remains understandable throughout.
Even more convincing is the accumulation of procedural detail. It’s crucial for most crime fiction to convince the reader of their plausibility and Trunk Music is undoubtedly a novel of the nineties, with its post-Rodney King LAPD, attention to Employment Equity issues and usage of modern communication and audiovisual equipment.
Connelly’s writing style has a lot to do with the novel’s success. His characters are well-introduced and suitably handled. Nobody’s perfect, and even the hero is motivated by goals that aren’t always admirable; watch as his initial handling of the case is more a case of personal advancement than reasonable procedure. The dialogue is spot-on and there are more than a few chuckles to be enjoyed from Harry Bosch. Great Scenes also pepper this novel, raising it from the ranks of the merely good novels to the status of a little great yarn.
Despite being a fifth-of-a-series, Trunk Music starts out in a way that’s easy to immerse newer readers. Then the plot, the characters and the details take over and the result is nothing short of a superb police procedural. Publishers will undoubtedly be pleased to note that gee, if Trunk Music was that good, it might be worthwhile to read Connelly’s next book…