The Late Show

Michael Connelly could simply continue rotating novels between his two popular series – Harry Bosch and the Lincoln Lawyer – and remain one of the most popular authors working today. But instead Connelly chose to introduce a new character in THE LATE SHOW, his latest novel. And if this debut is any indication, Detective Renee Ballard can easily became the third major player in Connelly’s arsenal.

Renee Ballard, a former crime journalist, joined the LAPD several years ago and quickly rose to the rank of police detective. Then she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. But when her fellow officers failed to support her complaint Ballard was demoted to working the midnight shift in Hollywood – known internally as “The Late Show.”

While detectives working the Late Show routinely begin many investigations, they never complete them. Instead the cases are turned over to the day shift investigators the following morning. But Ballard starts two cases she can’t seem to quit: One involves a cross-dressing male prostitute who was abducted from the streets, brutally beaten, and left for dead in an alley. The other is a shooting at a nightclub in Hollywood that left four men dead and an unidentified perpetrator who quickly fled the scene.

Ballard relentlessly researches each case, eventually uncovering a person of interest in the prostitute beating and the suspicious past of the four dead men in the nightclub shootings. But her determination soon threatens her already shaky career with the LAPD, as well as her life.

Connelly immediately opens with Ballard’s perspective of the events unfolding around her, and – like his two earlier series leads – maintains this point-of-view throughout the entire novel. Secondary characters, including Ballard’s Late Show partner, come and go as the story progresses, but any internal musings or back-stories are exclusively Ballard’s.

Connelly avoids any clear-cut division between the two cases Ballard pursue. So often a single chapter swings back and forth between events and revelations of both cases. This brings an essential verisimilitude to the novel but risks confusing the reader in a jumble of overlapping facts. Fortunately Connelly keeps things in order with quick references to each case, often while Ballard is in her car navigating the L.A. freeways between locations, or during the precious quiet times when Ballard occupies a vacant desk at police headquarters.

The novel is also enhanced by Connelly’s intimate knowledge of contemporary police procedures and regulations – several of which Ballard defies in her efforts to keep hold of the two cases. Then there is Connelly’s incorporation of police slang. The title of the novel is the most obvious example. Others include how an unmarked police car is a “plain wrap,” and the nightclub murders are quickly referenced as “four-on-the-floor.” These phrases and nicknames are so much a part of police experience that they are as frequently exchanged between officers and their supervisors, as well as between the officers themselves.

But what prevents the novel from becoming just another realistic police procedural are the characters. Thanks to his inventive skills, Connelly keeps us fascinated with Ballard during the moments when she is not involved with her detective work. So we learn of her upbringing in Hawaii, her early love of surfing, and how she uses paddle boarding to release the daily stress of her job.

And as if all these weren’t enough, Connelly adds several unexpected plot twists and shocking scenes of suspense to keep us turning the pages and we follow Ballard in her dogged pursuit of both cases.

While there is no overt promise that more Ballard cases are in the works, this debut concludes conveniently open ended. And the little extra effort from the publisher announcing the introduction of Ballard on the dust jacket is also our assurance that we’ve not seen the last of Ballard and her investigations of crime on the Hollywood streets long after midnight. (And if Connelly is true to form, Ballard may eventually cross paths with the two other series leads.)

So take the opportunity to acquaint yourself with a new Connelly character and treat yourself to THE LATE SHOW. —Alan Cranis

Get it at Amazon.

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