Friday, April 25, 2014

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I dislike the frequent ironic use of the word “porn” when referring to other mediums; for example “food porn” or “home toiletries porn.” And yet, I’m guilty, of late, of becoming addicted to “cop porn.” More specifically the Michael Connelly novels that feature LAPD detective, Harry Bosch, aka Hieronymous Bosch. I have a prejudice against paperbacks from the 1990s that come with shiny covers, and dismiss most popular police procedural books as likely the work of a hack. Connelly, however, who began writing the Bosch books in 1992, and has not yet ended the series, has won me over. I’ve been gobbling up his books, one after another, with titles such as The Drop, Trunk Music, The Concrete Blonde, The Closers, The Last Coyote and Black Ice. He’s the best L.A. crime novelist since Raymond Chandler. You’ll notice I’m avoiding the usual champion, James Ellroy, whose writing, however “gritty” and “incandescent” in its energy, is overwrought and self-congratulatory.  
Connelly’s books aren’t perfect. The prose is not particularly lyrical. (I suspect Connelly is not as popular in France as was David Goodis.) The plots are overly-dramatic, and Bosch, on occasion, losing his understated cool, revels in his own macho doings. Connelly offers up too many books that involve serial killers. And his hero, Bosch, also sometimes is unsympathetic. Yet he is just about perfect as the reincarnation of Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s private eye.  Like Marlowe he loves his sordid city, Los Angeles. He screws up and bends the rules. He nevertheless has a “code” and the respect of others. He does not “get the girl” or, at least, not for long. He is, as Pee Wee Herman once memorably said, “A loner, Dottie.” And while Chandler’s novels were full of racist and homophobic allusions, Bosch, as is appropriate to our times, is culturally aware, and somewhat politically correct. Bosch works with African-American partners, is not judgmental about homosexuality, and has sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. “Everyone counts, or no one counts,” is his repeated mantra. He, also, though, can be brutal. Willing to trick and coerce confessions, illegally break and enter, and so on. As the back covers say, Bosch walks a tightrope between heroism and villainy.
It is almost impossible to write a detective novel these days that involves a private investigator. That romance is over. Everyone knows private detectives don’t get the good cases or have the muscle to solve them. So, if you are not going to focus on the criminals, as did Elmore Leonard, then “embedding” your hero or antihero into a police force makes sense. I fear Bosch, after a long career, has no choice but to soon retire, and I only have fifteen more novels (so far Bosch has appeared in twenty-one) to plow through. I ran into the same wall when reading my other favorite police procedural series, Henning Mankell’s books about Kurt Wallander. Perhaps an even greater creation, Wallander is a sullen, forlorn antihero—overwrought in his angst, inner turmoil, and drunkenness, yet a good if plodding detective, capable of insight, and content working in a provincial town. The last of that (seven novel) series ended with Mankell coolly announcing Wallander’s retirement, slow plunge into the darkness of dementia, and death. I’ll be sad to see Bosch go. It’s hard to find a hero these days. 
I believe I’ve discovered a pun hidden in the Bosch series: the full name of his mother, a whore, was MARjorie PHILLIPs LOWE. Coincidence?