Warner, 1993, 439 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-61344-4
Whenever a reasonably good and consistent author emerges, reviewers inevitably wonder what will be the novel to break their stride. What’s the worst they can do? What is the least of their capabilities?
The Black Ice may be an above-average police procedural, but this second entry in my Michael Connelly Reading Project (“One novel per month, every month, until I’m caught up”) is the weakest of the half-dozen Connelly novel I’ve read so far.
Once again, the star of the show remains Harry Bosch, the laconic LAPD policeman that has since become Connelly’s signature character. For Harry, things are tough at work and about to get tougher as a policeman’s corpse is discovered. Suicide, say early results, but Bosch isn’t convinced –even as his superiors aren’t fond of too-clever deductions. In typical Connelly fashion, the subsequent investigation takes Harry in dangerous places, especially when the death turns out to be linked to the drug underground of Los Angeles, with an even more problematic Mexican connection.
Throughout most of its duration, The Black Ice is slick procedural detective fiction, and it uses a number of L.A.-specific elements to spice up the narrative. Fruit flies have seldom been so important in a police procedural thriller, and even routine scenes such as a visit to a low-end bar end up having unexpected spikes of drama. Before the end of the novel, we’re even treated to a big SWAT action sequence.
For readers who aren’t following Bosch’s novels in linear order, The Black Ice doesn’t particularly depend on the events of the first volume. Only Bosch’s romantic history and distrust of the LAPD’s Internal Investigations unit carry through most clearly. After the troubled romance of the first volume, Harry is after yet another opportune girlfriend this time around, although don’t worry –later volumes show that it won’t last. The internal investigation angle is trickier: Harry doesn’t trust the LAPD and the LAPD doesn’t trust him either. In Connelly’s fiction, though, this is business as usual.
But “business as usual” ends up being the key expression to describe one of Connelly’s most average effort so far. His typically fluid prose remains just as apt at hooking readers into a complex web of competing subplots but The Black Ice, for the longest time, lacks the distinctive edge that usually gives an extra boost to Connelly’s fiction. Critics will struggle to find something to say about it and turn in shorter-than-usual reviews. Until the last quarter of the narrative, it’s “just” another murder investigation with a drug angle. What happens afterwards is definitely a spoiler, but that extra quasi-insane twist eventually becomes the most distinctive element of the novel.
And yet, even if The Black Ice is satisfying crime fiction, it’s still a notch under what Connelly can usually write and the difference is perceptible. Since the result is still superior to the average, it’s easy to forgive Connelly this misstep. The mark of a great author, after all, is how he can be above the norm even in his weakest moments. The Michael Connelly Reading Project rolls on, far from being disappointed.