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Onyx reviews: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 7/29/2017

For the first time in over two dozen crime novels, Michael Connelly writes about a female LAPD detective. Renée Ballard, formerly of the prestigious Robbery-Homicide Division, has been consigned to the midnight shift in Hollywood Division as punishment. She accused her lieutenant of inappropriate behavior toward her and her (male) partner refused to back her up, so her sexual harassment complaint was dismissed and she was reassigned.

The main problem with working "the late show," as the officers call it, is that the detectives aren't able to pursue cases. They get called to overnight crime scenes to collect information and present initial reports to their daytime colleagues, who then take over the cases. This suits Ballard's burned-out partner, Jenkins, just fine: he has a sick wife who needs him at home. Ballard, however, wants to sink her teeth into cases and see them through to their conclusion.

A former journalist, Ballard is a loner. Her father died when she was young and her mother abandoned her. She was raised in Hawaii by her grandmother, and she's as at home on a paddleboard as on dry land. She is virtually homeless—both at work and away from the office. She has no permanent desk, squatting at whichever one is free at the moment. When she gets off shift, she sets up a tent on the beach, retrieves her rescue dog from overnight care, and sleeps and hits the surf to build the upper body strength she needs to grapple with combative suspects. She keeps her work clothes in her locker, cycling them through the dry cleaners as needed, and uses beach showers. She does not appear to have any close friends other than the occasional hook-up, always with people who aren't on the job.

She has some things in common with Connelly's series regular, Harry Bosch, in that she feels somewhat constrained by the system in which she works. She believes there are evil people out there and it is her job to bring them to justice. She's not above cutting corners to get the job done, including making anonymous phone calls to tip lines to justify pursuing suspects, manipulating her supervisors into allowing her to investigate beyond her jurisdiction, or withholding information from her superiors, sometimes to her detriment.

During one shift, Ballard becomes involved in two investigations. The first involves the brutal beating of a transgendered individual who was left for dead with obvious signs of prolonged torture. The second is a shooting at a nightclub that left five dead and the shooter in the wind. She wants to close the assault case, despite her partner's lack of interest, and she also makes a deduction about the nightclub shooting that complicates her life, particularly because the lead on that investigation is the lieutenant she filed the complaint against.

She works her off-the-books cases during her off-hours and off days, walking a careful path through the bureaucracy and red tape of the police department. Connelly knows what it's like to be an LAPD officer: how long it takes to get forensics results, and how detectives can jump the queue in certain circumstances. He knows what the daily life of the detective is like, down to telling details about how the breakup of a partnership is similar to divorce: each member of the former partnership inherits certain of their contacts. He has also created an interesting character with a rich background and a sharp tongue. Ballard isn't an Atomic Blonde: she has limitations when battling larger, stronger adversaries, but she's also well trained and knows how to use her resources. In the current climate, though, police actions are under careful scrutiny, so even the justifiable use of force can endanger an officer's future with the department—especially when she's already as low as she can go as a detective and higher-ups are determined to see her career ended.

Ballard puts together a disparate batch of clues to solve both of her investigations and gain her some measure of good grace. However, it doesn't look like she'll be getting off the Late Show any time soon. Stay tuned for her further adventures.

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