Sunday, 21 October 2012


In an appealling bit of synchronicity, the Guardian on Friday ran an interview with Martin Landau, who,asit happens, dated Marilyn Monroe in the Fifties when both were at the Actors' Studio. Landau was explaining how he felt neither James Dean nor Marilyn were suicidal, and their deaths have been remembered for all the wrong reasons. 'There's always a lot of conjecture about Marilyn's death,' Landau explained. 'It's still a mystery; no one seems to know exactly what happened. Yes, there were ongoing issues with Marilyn, but they did not support the idea of suicide in any way, shape or form.'

The quote struck me because I had literally just finished Max Allan Collins' Bye Bye Baby, his thirteenth Nate Heller historical true-crime novel, but the first to be published in nine years, and it deals with the death of Monroe, in 1962. I've written before about the Heller series, and what a crime it is, if you'll pardon the expression, that they have basically avoided publication in Britain. Perhaps British publishers thought that American crimes, like the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Black Dahlia murder, or the assassinations of Huey Long or Chicago's Mayor Cermak, wouldn't have any appeal to their audience. But Heller has also investigated Amelia Earhart's disappearance, the sighting of aliens at Roswell, and the murder of Sir Harry Oakes, which involves the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And now Marilyn.

By the time the book opens, Heller is highly successful, the PI to the stars, and he has a close relationship with Monroe. She hires him to big her own house, and he discovers that she is already being spied upon, by multiple snoops. You should know the story by now—having been dumped by JFK and begun an affair with brother Bobby, she was also embroiled in a feud with Paramount over the filming of Something's Got To Give (remember the poolside photos?). Her death was suspicious in many ways—not least because the police were not called for hours afterwards, and the amount of barbituates in her system was so huge it's hard to imagine how she might've ingested them all.

Around this story Collins weaves a plot which draws Heller back into the orbits of many people he's worked for or encountered before—not just the Kennedys and their hangers-on, but Sam Giancana and the mob, Frank Sinatra, and Jimmy Hoffa. This is one of the strongest points about the Heller series—Collins has patiently been building the connections which amount to a dissection of at least part of the secret history of the United States. It's odd that he should be travelling in much the same circles as James Ellroy—I recall in an interview his explaining how much he liked Ellroy while at the same time being unable to read his books—but of course coming at the material from a very different style.

Heller the character veers between two points. He is a hard-boiled but soft-centered detective, which occasionally makes him a very appealling character in a sentimental sort of way. This is essential to Collins because the Heller books are told in the first person, with a real sense of nostalgia about them. As he himself has noted, they are not strictly speaking, period pieces, like Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters or Andrew Bergman's Jack LeVine, but to me they are often close in tone to Herman Wouk's Wind Of War, with Heller sometimes playing a Pug Henry type character, almost an observer, occasionally a catalyst for history.

What's interesting in Bye Bye Baby is how much the success of the novel depends on the depth of the characters—for example, his composite detective who's doing the bugging of Monroe's house, and his Dorothy Killgallen et al composite journalist are both key characters with whom Heller has to interact—and neither gets the time to be totally convincing. On the other hand, his historical figures are much more so—both Kennedys, John Roselli, Giancana, Joe DiMaggio, Peter Lawford and even Sinatra all fit the personalities we think we know, but have real and sometimes surprising depth. The lesser-known figures around Marilyn are likewise drawn well—though some of them, especially Dr Ralph Greenson, were sort of parodies of themselves already. I was curious to learn that James Hamilton, of the LAPD's Intelligence Division, was briefly head of security for the NFL; I've met a couple of his successors along the way.

The key, of course, is his Marilyn. There is an element of voyeurism to Heller's own relationship with her, as well as a couple of very touching moments. But where Collins gets it best is when he shows her trying to control her own life, particularly her business side, but being vulnerable because she can never control her emotional life. That insight, and the way it's expressed make the book work. And the 'solution' makes a certain amount of sense—it may well be the only way to draw all the anomalies of the case together.

For all the careful characterisation, there is also a moment of unintentional humour, which comes from the unavoidable need to sometimes be expository in the story-telling. Heller and some cops are talking to Eunice Murray, Marilyn's housekeeper, and one of the shadier people in the story, Heller notes that her story sounded prepared. 'Marilyn was “motionless” and “looked peculiar”...who talks like that?' he asks. When, later in the book, Heller discusses Marilyn's non-vindictive nature with Flo Kilgore, and brings up her feud with Joan Crawford. 'I remember that,' he says. 'But she expressed her disappointment and hurt over the affront,saying how much she'd always admired Crawford.' I made a quick note, asking 'who talks like THAT?'

But I also found it intriguing that, when Heller does his summing up, for our benefit, of what happened to the characters, his mentions that Roselli was found floating in an oil drum in Biscayne Bay. He doesn't mention that he was found just before he was scheduled to tesitify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Maybe that's because he's saving that bit info for the aftermath of his next Heller book, Target Lancer, due out in November, which will mark the 29th anniverary of the first Heller novel (pubished in 1983) and the 49th of the JFK assassination. As I said, Heller has already dealt with many of the key figures around the assassination—including (I've been working my way through his short stories too) one Jake Rubinstein, a Chicago hood Heller knew in his early days, who wound up owning a strip club in Dallas where he was better known as Jack Ruby. I'm looking forward to it already.

BYE BYE, BABY by Max Allan Collins
Forge Books (USA) $7.99 ISBN 9780765361462

Friday, 19 October 2012


The Atlantic recently posted a remarkable video on their website, from the Fifties panel show I've Got A Secret. The clip, from 1956, features a 96 year old man who had been present at Ford's Theatre in Washington when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. You can link to the clip here, and in the piece is another link to the newspaper article that prompted his appearance on the show. Rebecca J Rosen of The Atlantic points out the relative 'brevity' of a century and a half, noting that there are far fewer differences between that TV show and our shows 57 years later, than there were for Mr. Samuel Seymour living from 1860 to 1956. It's too bad he didn't make it to the Civil War Centennial, which dominated my consciousness for a couple of years in 1962-63, but sadly he died only a couple of months after appearing on the programme.

As it happens, my great-grandmother's father was born in 1843 and died in 1945. He came to the US to avoid pogroms or wars (and narrowly missed the Civil War himself) fought on horseback and with muskets, and died after the first atomic bomb was dropped. I can remember my great-grandmother saying how he would have lived longer had he not smoked cigars. The link is not so remote as we might think.

I can tell my son about my grandfather's reaction to silent films. I was watching them in the mid-1970s, and would discuss them with my Grandpa Gene, who was born in 1900. He would immediately be drawn into his memories, precise in their fresh detail, of favourite films and, as interestingly, favourite actresses. As we talked he would drift into the present tense--we were talking about movies that were real, in the moment, for both of us.

As it happens, I remember I've Got A Secret, and by 1956 we had a TV so my mother might well have been watching that very episode. The funniest bit is when the host, Gary Moore, assumes the Lincoln assassination had nothing to do with the Civil War. But what was most interesting for me was watching how entertaining Bill Cullen and Jayne Meadows were on the panel. American TV in the Fifties still bore many of the trademarks of radio, and was New York centric, and there were 'personalities ' on it whose position was very much like some of the ubiquitous BBC people who fill panels and guest on radio and TV. Cullen and Meadows are funny, but they're also smart, and not afraid to be so. The other panelists were Henry Morgan and Faye Emerson, neither of whom I ever warmed to. The Meadows sisters (Audrey was Jackie Gleason's wife on The Honeymooners) reminded me of my Aunt Jean, too. The show ran for 21 years, with Steve Allen, another of those smart and funny people, taking over for Moore. Cullen would host its brief revival in the mid-Seventies.

Doing a little research, I was surprised to see I've Got A Secret was co-'created' by Allan Sherman, who would go onto fame as 'My Son The Folksinger', with the hit 'Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah'. I put 'created' in quotation marks because the show was such an obvious copy of What's My Line; both came from the Godson-Todman stable of shows. As the Atlantic piece notes, it's funny to see the cigarette sponsor front and center at Moore's desk; it's almost as funny to note $80 was the grand prize, or to see the crewcuts and bowties which indicated a certain level of acceptable (not as suspect as 'longhaired' --ie, not crewcut)--intellectual. Their spiritual descendants are the George Wills or Tucker Carlsons (no relation) who wear bow ties to signal they are playing intellectuals on TV.

The passage of 56 years hasn't dimmed my memory of flickering black and white TV. In fact, the images in my mind may be sharper and more stable than they were on our old Philco, just as my grandfather's memories of silent film actress could still bring a warm smile to his face. And remembering that brings a warmer smile to mine. Just as those memories live on in us, we live on in the memory of others.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Although not part of the London Film Festival's strand called 'Thrillers' (instead, it's in 'First Features'), it would be hard to find a more suspenseful and enthralling crime film than The Samurai That Night, written and directed by Masaaki Akahori. The titular samurai is Kenichi Nakamura, who owns a small machine shop, and who lost his wife to a hit and run driver five years ago. The driver of the truck, Kijima, was caught because of the guilt felt by his friend Kobayashi, but now is out of prison, and looking for revenge, though he doesn't realise Kobayashi's betrayal. He also doesn't realise Nakamura is tailing him, though he does receive notes every morning, counting the days until the fifth anniversary, the anonymous sender telling him that he will kill both Kijima and himself.

From that beginning Akahori weaves the Japanese gangster movie into a penetrating look at the shallowness of the society—something worthy of the masters of the early postwar Japanese film. It's an interesting blend, as the darkness that comes close to film noir blends into the flatness, almost gray and dirty realism of working class Japan, but then bleeds into the special empty neon brightness of the modern world. What makes it work so well, however, is something that seems to carry over from the film's origins; Akahori wrote it as a play and it bears a considerable influence of theatre of the absurd. In the absurd, characters re-enact daily rituals, which often are seen as neuroses, as way of coping with the random indifference of life. What could be more ritualistic than the samurai, with his code of bushido, and heoric death. What death could be more indifferent than a hit and run? And Akahori's Japan is a world of indifference.

People live in tight spaces, they seem attached to electronic devices, they eat industrial fast-food. The hapless Nakamura gorges himself on packaged custard desserts; the last message he received from his wife on his answer machine, just before she died, scolds him and orders him to stay away from the custards. He plays the message over and over. Just like the absurd at its best, scenes shift from comedy into pathos. At dinner with a fellow teacher (the excellent Mitsuki Tanimura) with whom his brother-in-law is trying to match-make, he pulls out a pair of his wife's panties, and sniffs them. Then apologies politely.

'I have time, and I'm bored to death,' says a hooker who watches TV as Nakamura, having failed to perform the act he's paid form, furiously tries, and fails, to open a bag of crisps. Watching him struggle, she returns to her karioke. Earlier he's been told he doesn't look like a victim. 'I've looked this way since I was born,' he replies.

Everyone seems alone, and any attention is preferable to none: Kijima nearly kills Mr. Hoshi, whom he suspects of betraying him, but Hoshi continues to tag along with him, even as he victimises a young female a crossing guard. Hoshi later explains, 'he's my friend'. Having abused the girl, Kijima moves into her flat, eating her food and playing video games, and virtually ignoring her as she says 'It's nice to have someone here'.

Kijima is the would-be gangster, preying on the respectable, like Nakamura's brother-in-law, whom he blackmails in return for keeping the threats secret. Brilliantly played by Takayuki Yamada, he and his sidekicks Kobayashi (Gou Ayano) and Hoshi (Tomorowo Yaguchi) might be playing scenes from Waiting For Godot as they wander down the roads, or plot Kijima's revenge. It builds to a sort of primal noirish apocalypse, a show-down in the midst of a typhoon, then settles into an anti-heroic anti-climax, in which the promise of a relationship drifts away, and Nakamura returns to his custard, now baptising himself with it, rather than eating it. There is no transformation in the universe of the absurd, there is just the going on.

Saturday, 13 October 2012


Thomas Vinterberg is best known for Festen, his second feature film released in 1998 as the first production from Dogme, which he founded with Lars Van Trier. Fourteen years later, Vinterberg returns to the theme of child abuse within a tightly-wrapped part of Danish society, and again, it is with group ritual as a backdrop. In Festen, the film is about secrets that need to come out. The Hunt (Jagten in Danish), which is screened today at the London Film Festival, is about the way accusation can become the same as guilt.

In a small town in rural Denmark, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a former teacher, who had lost his job when the school was closed by budget cuts. His wife has left him, taking their teenaged son, and he now lives alone, working as an assistant in a kindergarten, where he is popular with the kids whom he obviously adores. He is especially good with Klara, the daughter of his best-friend Theo. Lucas' only social interaction comes with the members of his hunting club, which binds the men of the village together.

Klara seeks out Lucas when her parents don't pay her enough attention, but one day, when he attempts to distance himself slightly from her, she feels rejected and through a series of easy misunderstandings, Lucas finds himself accused of child abuse. The film is pretty much unequivocal about his innocence—though his withdrawn personality and sometimes intense anger leaves a little ambiguity—and it is perhaps at its best as the noose of accusation draws tighter and tighter around Lucas. Vinterberg details it carefully, and is helped by some small but finely judged performances, particularly by Anne Louise Hassing as Grethe, the head of the kindergarten, and (uncredited) the excellent Bjarne Henriksen (best-known here as the father in The Killing) as the specialist who comes to hear Klara's story.
False accusation of child abuse has prompted a few This is The Crucible redone for a modern era, and Lucas bit by bit finds himself an outcast, losing his job, the chance of access to his son, and driving away his new girlfriend, an outsider herself as an immigrant to Denmark working at the kindergarten. The dilemma faced by Theo (played with some relish by Thomas Bo Larsson) contrasts with the complete protective turn by his wife (Susse Wold), and what makes it work is how perfectly understandable it is. It is also helped by the perfectly pitched performance of young Annike Wedderkopp as Klara, who manages to convey beyond her innocence, the sense of powerlessness as adults take things out of control. The control of the film is superb, as it builds slowly in intensity, and the cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen (below right, with Vinterberg) is superb. The Danish village is rendered warm at first, but increasingly cold and puritanical, while the surrounding countryside and its darkness seems to impinge more and more on it—the hunt, as it were, turned inward. When invisible assailants kill Lucas' beloved dog, and he buries her in a driving rain, the point could not be driven home more clearly.

Vinterberg does include a scene where the audience can actually relate to villains, those who feel they have to strike out at the evil-doer in their midst. In this The Hunt differs from, say, Mick Jackson's Indictment: The McMartin Trial, where the demarcation with James Woods, a lawyer-hero, is much stronger, and even The Crucible, where ulterior motives among the prosecutors are very much the case, and very much the core of the metaphor Arthur Miller was detailing. But despite the touch of melodrama in the film's biggest scene, which takes place in a church, at Christmas, when the rituals are maintained, it works as a catalyst.

Especially because of Mikkelsen's brilliant performance. He is on screen through virtually all of the film, and he is holding so much in he almost requires the audience make its own choice about him, whether to believe him or condemn him. This restraint contains a good deal of righteousness, and he simply refuses to accept his isolation from the community. Thus, even though he is eventually vindicated by law (luckily for him, his other best-friend, his son's godfather, is a lawyer and never doubts him), and rejoins the hunt club along with his son, we sense in many minds the stigma remains. The film ends with a hunt, and Vinterberg manages to avoid both melodrama and cliché, which works brilliantly. The Hunt is a superb piece of film-making, and it will be hard to find many better films in this year's LFF.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


My obituary of Alex Karras is up on the Guardian's website; you can link to it here, There was a lot I had to leave out, for the usual reasons of space and of the audience's assumed unfamiliarity with American football --a couple of very basic explanations were added in for fear they wouldn't understand. I had to leave out one of my favourite quotes--the story he made famous on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, about 'battling for 59 minutes and then some little guy in a clean uniform comes on and says 'I keek touchdown!'.  Garo Yepremian had indeed said that to Karras, but it came after the extra point on a meaningless touchdown--and might well have been apocryphal anyway, as Yepremian had already been playing in the Continental Football League.

For people who do know football, Karras' career is fascinating. He appears to have been a four-year all-state selection, which I found hard to believe--Bobby Valentine first achieved fame in my home state of Connecticut by being the first-ever three-timer-- and Karras suffered badly at Iowa, from both home-sickness and an unwillingness to adapt to the hard-edged approach of the legendary Hawkeyes' coach Forest Evashevski. Legend says he threw a shoe at the coach when he quit the team in 1955, and it was true he missed playing against his brother when Evashevski benched him for the 1956 season opener against Indiana. That year Iowa went 9-1 (losing to Michigan) and ended the season with a huge win over Notre Dame, whose star, ironically, was 'The Golden Boy' Paul Hornung, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy as best college player, and would later be suspended for gambling along with Karras. Iowa won the Rose Bowl over Oregon State, and finished ranked third in the nation.

The next year, Karras won the Outland Trophy, but almost more impressively finished second in the Heisman voting to halfback John David Crow of Texas A&M. But it would have taken too much space to explain both the Heisman and the fact it nearly always goes to a quarterback or running back. That Karras isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is probably due to his gambling suspension--but Jerry Kramer is another lineman from the all-decade team in the Sixties who isn't in the Hall, and Kramer wrote books. In Instant Replay he paid Karras a supreme compliment as an opponent: 'I'm thinking about him every minute'. Speaking of books, it's also hard to understate the kind of impact that Paper Lion had. George Plimpton was an elegant, upper-class, American aristocrat kind of writer--editor of the Paris Review--and his endorsement of the NFL was as crucial as the Kennedys' games of touch football for elevating the game in the minds of mainstream America. You can see from reading the book just how taken he was with Karras--and as the epitome of the 'old style' game of football, he was essential to Plimpton's selling of what became a very different kind of sport as it conquered America.

The Lions had a formidable defense, especially in the middle, with Karras, the quick guy who'd now be called an 'under' tackle and big Roger Brown, with the excellent Joe Schmidt behind them at middle linebacker. I saw a couple of references to their line being called 'The Fearsome Foursome' before the Rams' claimed that name--but I tend to doubt it extended beyond Detroit, if at all, because I recall the Chargers' early AFL line being called that, also before the Rams, and the Lions' ends weren't that fearsome anyway. Ironically, Brown would be traded to the Rams, and join the Foursome as a replacement. Perhaps not so ironically, Karras feuded with his pro coaches too, except for Schmidt when he became coach after he retired, but by 1970 he'd lost too much quickness and was cut before the 1971 season.

I thought the Rugby League comparison was an apt one, and I would have liked to compare Karras and Hornung's suspension to Joe Namath's a few years later--Namath similarly had to divest himself of a share in a bar where underworld characters hung out. There was a good piece in the New York Times about the Lindell AC, where among the items framed on the walls was a jockstrap worn by Karras' teammate Wayne Walker. In the era of modern 'sports bars' this kind of joint just doesn't exist anymore, as much an anachronism as the players of the era and the kind of game football was.

Karras and Dick the Bruiser really did tear the Lindell AC to pieces in their staged brawl to promote the match staged while Karras was suspended. He didn't wrestle all that often, but he played a wrestler at least twice in movies, once in Babe, as I mentioned in the obit, and with actual ring action in Mad Bull (1977) where he plays the eponymous aging wrestler coming to the ring wearing a Mongo-style cowboy hat. Obviously wrestling helped him play the comic roles he so often got.

I'll have to dig up a copy of Babe; the more I think about it, the more convinced I am the Babe Didrikson may have been the greatest American athlete of the first half of the 20th century, certainly up there with Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, and Jesse Owens. I'm also curious to see how Susan Clark, who is an underrated actress, played her. Of course she wound up repeating the film role and marrying Karras for real.

I can't remember Karras on Monday Night Football, but that was the time I was leaving Montreal and moving to London. I was also surprised to see he'd done CFL commentary, for a station in Windsor, just across the river from Detroit. I remembered he'd had a big offer from Winnipeg when he left college--the CFL could actually compete with the NFL for some players, and they may have thought the undersized Karras might do better on the bigger Canadian fields.

I was indebted to Robert Collins for the Karras quote I used at the end. It sums up the man, and life, perfectly. I'll repeat it here:

"It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind." 

RIP, Alex Karras.


There is an interesting obituary of Turhan Bey, who died at 89, by Ronald Bergen in today's Guardian; you can link to it here. Bey's background was almost as exotic as his subsequent career; as Bergan points out he was associated with the costume dramas of Jon Hall, Sabu, and Maria Montez, but he was often more watchable in more straightforward fare. What jumped out at me, however, was Bergen's relating that Bey never married, but 'wished to marry the actress Lana Turner in 1944, but gave her up because his mother disapproved.'

In August I wrote about The Falcon Takes Over, which was based on Raymond Chandler's Murder My Sweet. Bey had a small but crucial role in the 1942 film, as Jules Ampthor; Bergen doesn't mention the film, perhaps because the part was so small Bey went unbilled. But as you can see, if you go back to the piece here, I was fascinated by Helen Gilbert, who played the female villain, Velma.

Gilbert, as it happens, was married for five months in 1949 to Johnny Stompanato, who would later become Lana Turner's boyfriend, and be murdered, allegedly by Turner's daughter. And here was Bey hooked up with Turner back at the time he was making a picture with Gilbert, as you can see by the photo left, which was taken in 1942. Of course, Johnny Stomp was only 17 at the time, but....

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


My obituary of the great Canadian figure skater Barbara Ann Scott is in today's Independent, you can link to it here. I may have underplayed the importance of the dual golds for Scott and Dick Button in 1948. Scott proved that the Europeans couldn't dominate the compulsories, which they had considered their territory, and Button showed that a more athletic style of free skate could be so impressive as to win that part of the event too. How difficult this was to accomplish is illustrated by the 1947 World Championships, where Button finished second. The legendary Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow was so upset with the judging that he gave Button his 1901 International Cup (a prize Dick eventually passed on to John Misha Petkevitch).

When I worked for ABC Sports I did a lot of shows with Dick, and his understanding of the strange politics and the, shall we say, conservative aesthetics, of the skating world was a huge help in understanding the changes in the sport which came about, inevitably, as it became more popular--a kind of bowling alley ballet--and the focus of the Winter Olympics in the countries not dominated by skiing (or, like Canada, ice hockey).

Scott's career as an entertainer never took off the way Sonja Henie's did--she didn't project into movies, and I get the impression she didn't want to: honestly she couldn't really play the All-Canadian girl. She was a queen in her world, not just skating, but in her life that followed. In 1956, she and Button did an ice ballet Happy New Year special--I wonder if copies of that telecast exist, because I'd love to see it.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Michael Connelly is one of those few writers whose books I feel compelled to devour as soon as they appear, and it was somewhat chilling to realise that this has been the case almost since his first, The Black Echo, was published some twenty years ago. Since then, Harry Bosch has featured in seventeen novels, not always as the lead character, but he is the lead in the The Black Box, which is the eighteenth, and which is set, not by coincidence, in 1992, to mark the anniversary of the first book.

Its set in the present, but the cold crime Bosch investigates is a case he had drawn twenty years before, the murder of a Danish photo-journalist in the midst of the Rodney King riots. The chaos facing the LAPD at that time meant Bosch couldn't delve fully into the killing at the time, and no one else did either. But the characteristic that most defines Bosch is his desire to bring justice to those who've been denied it, so he begins retracing the steps his two-decades younger self took. He's trying to unravel two mysteries: who killed Anneke Jespersen, and why.

Soon it becomes apparent that Jespersen wasn't collateral damage of the LA riots, and the trail Bosch then follows leads back not only to the LA of that time, but to the first Iraq war. The beauty of what might be considered a story-telling 'gimmick' is that it fits perfectly not only with the situation Connelly has created (Bosch on the Open Unsolved Unit) but also with the character which he has built so carefully and thoroughly over the past two decades. Even when the settings or situations seem unlikely, his Bosch remains a person who has sometimes grown and sometimes not over the years.

This paradox is probably the best part of the novel—as always, Harry cannot resist going off alone, doing what he thinks is right, and overlooking or sometimes not even being aware of the consequences. Of course, this is more perilous when you're a single father with a teenaged daughter, but it also applies when Bosch tries to do something thoughtful for his new girl-friend, psychologist Hannah Stone, and it winds up bouncing back to bite him professionally, and quite possibly on a personal level as well.

Connelly has gone back in time in other ways too. Bosch tends to be most interesting when he has a corporate foil (remember Harvey '98' Pounds?) which was what his new boss, Lt. Cliff 'Tool' O'Toole provides. It puts added tension into virtually all Bosch's decisions—on top of his added vulnerability with retirement staring him in the face. Throw in an inscrutable IAD detective on his case, and Bosch faces problems inside the department which are possibly harder to solve that a twenty year old murder. But of course, once Harry uncovers the 'Black Box' at the heart of the case, he will move forward to discover the truth. The finish is more action thriller than some, but the beauty of it is that again it recalls Bosch's part—the Vietnam experience which was such a shadow over the early Bosch novels.And it ends with perhaps the finest piece of self-examination we've yet received from Harry.

Music has always been a part of Bosch's story too, and in this novel, along with a huge nod to Art Pepper (as you'd expect, since the alto player represents the essence of Harry's dark and solitary LA soul) Connelly gets in plugs for younger jazz artists: Michael Formaek, Danny Grissett, Gary Smulyan, Seamus Blake, and Grace Kelly (not the princess). So now I'll have to check them out.

Speaking of Pounds, it wasn't quite twenty years ago that I reviewed Connelly's Trunk Music, in which he is the victim, for the Spectator, and said this was the finest detective series being written in America. Nothing Michael Connelly has written since then has led me to change my mind, and The Black Box once again confirms it.

The Black Box by Michael Connelly
Orion Books, £18.99, ISBN 9781409134312

Note: this review will also appear in Crime Time (