Angels Flight, Michael Connelly

Warner, 1999, 454 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-60727-4

One of the known problem of my Michael Connelly reading project (one book per month, in order of publication, until I’m caught up) is that I have already read many of the high points of Connelly’s career. After The Last Coyote, for instance, I could skip over The Poet, Trunk Music and Blood Work. This landed me three novels later in Angel’s Flights, with a slightly different Harry Bosch now re-integrated with the police force and struggling through a marriage I barely remembered. Having read Trunk Music nearly eight years ago, it took me a while to get back up to speed with the latest developments.

Fortunately, Connelly makes it easy to get back into Bosch’s mind: his best-known protagonist is still as taciturn, still as clever, and just as likely to find himself at the centre of a complicated investigation. This time, Bosch is chosen by the LAPD’s high management as the lead inspector on a case with the potential to revive racial riots: the murder of a black attorney who specialized in cases against the police. Worse: the victim was killed in a way that suggests a policeman with a score to settle. Already marginalized by his colleagues, Bosch finds himself stuck with investigators he can’t trust and a mystery some people don’t want to see resolved.

As the clock starts ticking, the investigation roars into gear. Bosch doesn’t have much time: Already, the media is driven to a frenzy of speculation by the killer-cop angle. Before long, Bosch realizes that the investigation is a poisoned gift: No one inside the LAPD particularly wants it to succeed, and even Bosch’s team may not be entirely trustworthy. As if that wasn’t enough, it seems that the deceased attorney had a source deep inside the police force…

But it gets worse. Seemingly impartial people turn out to have a web of connections to the victim, including one of Bosch’s ex-partners. Pulling on all the threads revealed by his investigation, Bosch starts paying renewed attention to a case that everyone thought closed, a sordid child murder that may not be as simple as everyone had figured. The title of the book eventually acquires another meaning as Bosch is forced to investigate something he’d rather leave to others…

This may not be among Connelly’s best novels, but it’s certainly up to his usual standards. The writing is clean and immediately absorbing. The characters are efficiently introduced and developed, which is of even bigger importance here as the cast seems much larger than in previous books. The plot keeps moving forward relentlessly, making it hard to stop reading once it gets going.

This technical proficiency makes it easy to forget about the thick density of issues tackled through the novel. Angels Flight is, first and foremost, a novel about Los Angeles in the nineties, as it recovered from the scars left by the 1992 riots. But it also weaves in themes of lost innocence, of police violence, of what makes good people go bad. Bosch has never been a happy character and Angels Flight seems grimmer than most, especially given how it really doesn’t solve any of Bosch’s romantic problems.

What doesn’t work so well are some of the technical details: Written in 1998, Angels Flight still has a gosh-wow approach to the then-Internet, and some of the vocabulary used to describe the investigation as it move on-line is just wrong. Not a big deal for most, but frustrating to the knowledgeable readers in the context of a police procedural where details should sound right.

The other nagging element of the novel is the ending, which manages to be predictable and frustrating. Twenty pages before the end, you can practically predict what will happen to who, based on nothing but the situation and the knowledge that American crime fiction would rather kill a villain than punish him through the course of law.

But these are small issues in such a successful novel. While Angels Flight doesn’t have the extra boost to propel it among Connelly’s best novels (of which there have been more than a few), it holds its own as another decent entry in his oeuvre. The Michael Connelly Reader Project continues at a good clip with nary a misfire in sight.

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