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(Marx) (Burroughs) (Chandler) (Calvino) (Joyce)
Oh, Michael Connelly is right now letting me down. He’s gone from being a sleeper fave to a full-bore fave to being whatever he is now. What I like(d?) about Connelly’s that he was a bestseller kind of mystery guy that I could get behind, a digestible but not-unstimulating reaffirmation of the “lone dick amidst the LA mean streets” rubric that Chandler revealed to the world with less fanfare and more intensity than any ritual crest. Well, Connelly’s works seem to be veering into “where’s my check?” territory. Here’s how it happened…
Connelly’s trademark series revolves around Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch, orphan, Vietnam vet and police detective. For much of the series, Connelly deals with the overworked-unto-caricature nature of this archetype through an adept use of third person narration, and emphasis on plot. In a journalistic, almost Hemingway-ish style, we learn about Bosch (And Connelly’s world) mostly through the absence of peering, confessional biography. There’s much to be said for Connelly’s unwillingness to divulge much but the most material of Bosch’s reactions to his surroundings – sex feels good and weird, hangovers hurt, etc. When we do get to rich n’ anecdotal land, the results are pretty writerly, if sometimes sentimental. On the positive side, there’s the image of Bosch hearing of his mother’s death, then jumping into a YMCA pool to scream his muffled grief-scream underwater. On the wankier end, we spend countless nights with Bosch drinking vodka on the veranda of a house he’d never be able to afford…listening to contemporary recordings by Joe Henderson.
I guess the problems besetting the Bosch series are problems any long-running series inevitably face… how many times can this guy be demoted, promoted, fired and retired and vindicated? How many ingenious serial killers can be out there for him to face? How many times can he end up fighting cinematic death battles on airport roads? You know how it is, and knowing that you also intuit why Chandler could only bring himself to write half as many novels as Connelly’s churned.
The other thing is that, for a long time crime beat journalist, Connelly seems to have increasingly abandoned any insight into the tone, texture or time-space environs of LA life. Every once and a while we get a wispy sentiment about gentrification, or a drug-addled hooker, but those are sentimentalisms more than they’re descriptions. (Speaking of sentimentalisms, let’s get this out of the way about the moral philosophy of crime novels…the pop-existentialist, ‘bad guys are actually good, good guys actually bad’ thing is now as easy and as ideological as ‘good guys good, bad bad…’ if not more.)
Now don’t get me wrong….suspension of disbelief is, like, the condition of possibility for crime novels, if not all d’art en general, if not half of toute la vie en general. suspension of disbelief draws me to mysteries like pro wrestling used to draw me, and like various chalices, ruminations and supplications draw billions of special people every day. Nobody expects Bosch to be “real” – if he was real, why’d i let him into my life (and throw my life into his) so freely? But as my grid (see above) suggests, fictive unreality demands a certain amount of truth-content or verite or whatevs, lest it remain opaque and incommunicable and more real than anything anybody can signify…(if i was smahtuh there’d be a riff on Lacan’s real/symbolic/imaginary chits right here….i’m not going to cater to the water-y, soviet-y Zizek version au present.)
Thus arty truth and realistic lies comprise the surf and turf dialectic of crime prose…the discipline lies in finding a workable ratio of the one to the other…and of course there are almost as many ways to get this problem right as there are to get it wrong. The problem with Connelly – or at least the problem with the first half of Echo Park, his first disappointing novel among the ten or so that i’ve read – is that this relationship is out of whack. I cannot accept the serial killer who a) convinces his guards to unchain him, and b) immediately escapes, grabs a gun, shoots the cops, steals a car and disappears. With a move like this, all the hard work setting up a large, believable cosmology of bureaucrats, coyotes, cops and LA nights starts circling towards the drain….
So you’re not crap, Michael Connelly. But you’re on the verge of being the “most not crap” of the craps. It’s a little harsh to fault you for one bad half of a book after all the good full books, but this is a prisonship, man. Nobody said any of this’d make sense.
ps – Alongside Bosch, Connelly’s churned out some fabulous stand-alone novels, as well as the Terry McCaleb series which inspired the “major” motion picture, Blood Work.
pps – thank you. it’s been almost two weeks.