Free Press Journal

The Late show by Michael Connelly: Review


Title: The Late Show

Author: Michael Connelly

Publisher: Orion

Pages: 400

Price: Rs 399

In the popular TV series ‘Castle’, Richard Castle, a best-selling mystery novelist, follows homicide detective Kate Beckett. She becomes his muse and he creates a fictionalised version of her using her experiences.

Now, we have best-selling writer Michael Connelly, who in ‘The Late Show’ has created a character, Renee Ballard, by using real-life LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts as the muse. In an interview, Connelly was quoted as saying, “I’m using some of her (Mitzi Roberts) experiences as a woman in a male-dominated world, a male-dominated profession, trying to capture that.”

The thriller introduces fans of Connelly to Ballard, a young LAPD detective who is out to prove her mettle in the male-dominated world and break the glass ceiling. Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood, from which comes the title of the book. She along with her partner John Jenkins, start investigations but never finish any since they have to turn over the cases every morning to day-shift detectives. So how come, a driven hard-working up-and-coming detective has been given this ‘deadbeat’? Well, it is a punishment for her for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. Connelly continuously exposes the sexist, clannish behaviour of the LAPD. Follow the ‘rules’ set by the majority of you will be relegated to the margins, seems to be the idea.

But one night she catches two cases – a sex worker is brutally beaten almost to the point of death and left in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Ballard is determined not to give up at dawn. She takes on the system, defies orders and even her own partner’s wishes by working both cases by day and doing her shift by night.

How Ballard goes about her job in the face of internal and external adversities makes for an engrossing read. “And there’s this saying they have about conformist society: The nail that sticks out gets pounded down.” This line from the book perfectly describes Ballard, but she ain’t a nail that can be pounded down.

Being familiar with Connelly’s work, having met both his other popular protagonists — Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller – through the screen (small and big), it was no surprise that Ballard is also a tenacious, gritty, throw the rulebooks to the dogs, get the job done, honest cop. But she differs from others in many ways, her unusual living condition, her backstory, her romantic life (or lack thereof) and her way of relaxing – by paddle-boarding, all set her apart.

The novel is beautifully paced and doesn’t have a single dull moment. The twists and turns leave one on edge and this is truly a ‘page-turner’. The added spice of once again getting to see the underbelly of the LAPD and its internal politics is rewarding. There are many strong women detectives in the mystery novel genre now, but it is a pleasure to see a new one join the ranks who is surely here for the long haul. In Ballard, Connelly has created a character to rival his other creations – Bosch and Haller.

In the book, Connelly writes, “I’ve seen long careers and careers cut short. The difference is in how you handle the darkness… If you go into darkness, the darkness goes into you. You then have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from following you out.”

Well, I, for one, am interested in seeing how Ballard deals with this darkness in the subsequent books and confident that she will come out into the light at the end every time and have a ‘long career’. And also keen on taking that dangerous and emotional journey with her again. So, even though Ballard may be on the graveyard shift, Connelly won’t and shouldn’t send her there any time soon.

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