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Archive for the ‘Crime Fiction’ Category

Void Moon by Michael ConnellyVoid Moon, Michael Connelly (2000)

This novel has two of Connelly’s greatest virtues: clever plotting and compulsive readability. But it’s marred by perhaps his biggest vice: his failure to remember that more is often less. Like The Black Echo (1992), it grabs you at the start with the small story of a failed criminal. The Black Echo has a dead Vietnam vet called William Meadows; Void Moon has a living parolee called Cassie Black. She’s just done years in jail for burglary and is trying to start her life again as a saleswoman at a luxury car-dealer in Los Angeles.

Why was she caught? What happened to her male accomplice? Connelly cleverly leaves things unexplained and draws you in. Cassie is a sympathetic character and you start worrying as you realize that she’s planning to go back to burglary. She’s risking a quick return to jail, because Thelma Kibble, her probation officer, is an “obese black female” and therefore very good at her job. She’s becoming suspicious of Cassie, who likes her all the same. Kibble “wasn’t easy but she was fair.” Connelly’s political correctness can’t really be called a vice, because it’s so common nowadays and isn’t in fact very annoying in this book.

There are even two good white men to offset all the evil white men. And the chief villain is one of Connelly’s best. He’s a psychopathic magician called Jack Karch. That’s magic as in card-tricks and rabbits-from-hats: Karch’s father once performed in Las Vegas on the same bill as Frank Sinatra. Like money and greed, legerdemain and misdirection are important parts of the plot. Las Vegas is where Cassie was caught, trying to rob a high-roller at a casino, and where she returns for another attempt at another high-roller. That’s why Karch, who’s working as a casino detective, gets on her trail and that’s when the book begins to lose its realism. There are too many dead bodies in the second half and too much of the action might have come from a James Bond movie. Like The Black Echo, the plot starts small, believable and compelling. Like The Black Echo again, it becomes big, unbelievable and no longer compelling.

But the plot is undeniably clever, with plenty of twists and surprises, and Connelly skilfully uses the characters and setting to explore themes like loyalty, deception and ego. Another part of his literary skill is apparent only when you read more of his books. His chief character is the LAPD murder-detective Harry Bosch and although Bosch doesn’t appear in Void Moon, it’s set in the same world. All his characters are linked in some way and Cassie turns up in a Bosch book. She’s a minor character there, a major one here.

That’s like life and so was the opening of Void Moon. When the bodies start piling up, the credibility is gone. I wouldn’t have minded so much if Thelma Kibble, the obese and highly competent probation officer, had been one of Karch’s long list of murderees. She isn’t, but she has more than a waddle-on part in the book and I’m not sure that Connelly was entirely sincere in making her such a stereotype of Black female virtue. If Void Moon had ended as it began, mindful that less is more, it would have been a much better book. But it’s still good and if you like hard-boiled crime fiction, Michael Connelly is definitely someone to try.

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The Satan Bug (1962) / The Way to Dusty Death (1973), Alistair MacLean

MacLean isn’t the best thriller-writer I know, because I think Ian Fleming is better, broader and more entertaining. But The Satan Bug, originally published under the name Ian Stuart, is probably the best of his many books. Or rather, the best version of his book, because he wrote variants on a single theme: hierarchy-hating hero defeats super-cerebral sado-villain(s) whilst wet, wounded and whiskey-soaked. The hero isn’t usually described in detail, because that would have got in the way of the wish-fulfilment fantasy for the heterosexual males who formed MacLean’s main audience. The nondescript hero here is called Pierre Cavell, a highly intelligent, highly skilled Anglo-French secret agent who has turned down six decorations – “three British, two French and one Belgian” (ch. 1) – at the end of the war before joining British intelligence and trying to stop minor but dangerous thefts from a high-security germ-warfare laboratory in Wiltshire called Mordon.

Then the thefts turn major: the laboratory has brewed a super-virus called the Satan Bug and someone makes off with two flasks of it, despite the high security. Cavell endures cold, kicks and cracks on the cranium as he unravels the crook’s cunning and literally saves the world in the final chapter, high over the rain-soaked streets of London. The ending is reminiscent of Fleming’s Goldfinger, which was published in 1959, but MacLean’s villain is more of a God-finger: he could destroy the world with one hand tied behind his back. The botulinum toxin he has also stolen, a gramme of which could wipe millions of people, is much less dangerous than the infernal infection he was really after. Following the theft, an Italian bacteriologist at Mordon describes what it can do:

In its final form, the Satan Bug is an extremely refined powder. I take a salt-spoon of this powder, go outside in the grounds of Mordon and turn the salt-spoon upside down. What happens? Every person in Mordon would be dead within an hour, the whole of Wiltshire would be an open tomb by dawn. In a week, ten days, all life would have ceased to exist in Britain. I mean all life. The Plague, the Black Death – was nothing compared with this. Long before the last man died in agony ships or planes or birds or just the waters of the North Sea would have carried the Satan Bug to Europe. We can conceive of no obstacle that can stop its eventual world-wide spread… The Lapp trapping in the far north of Sweden. The Chinese peasant tilling his rice-fields in the Yangtse valley. The cattle rancher on his station in the Australian outback, the shopper in Fifth Avenue, the primitive in Tierra del Fuego. Dead. All dead. Because I turned a salt-spoon upside down. Nothing, nothing, nothing can stop the Satan Bug. (ch. 3)

MacLean could write compelling prose about the biggest and baddest of themes, but he was also capable of touches like this, when the police are issuing a description of a get-away car:

“Alfringham. Then the London road. Cancel the call for the Fiat. It’s now a turquoise Vanden Plas Princess 3-litre. All stations. Locate, follow, but don’t close in.”

“Blue-green,” the general murmured. “Blue-green, not turquoise. Don’t call it turquoise. It’s policemen you’re talking to, not their wives. Half of them would think you’re talking about their Christmas dinner.” (ch. 11)

The general is Cavell’s spy-chief and the father of Cavell’s beautiful blonde wife, who gets kidnapped by the villain and his psychopathic deaf-mute assistant in chapter ten. That sort of thing was a bit dated even in 1962, but MacLean also bases a plot detour on an amateur astronomer taking photos of Jupiter’s “satellite Io occulting its own shadow” (ch. 5), so he obviously had a well-stocked brain. It was a well-soaked brain too and his alcoholism isn’t hard to guess from the constant references to hard liquor, though they aren’t as obtrusive and gratuitous as they are in some of his other books. The source of his obsession with cold, wet and injury won’t be so easy to guess, but the obsession is all over The Satan Bug. The book is set in a very wet October and Mordon is “grim, grey and gaunt… under darkly lowering skies” (ch. 2). Because of his war-service, Cavell is almost blind in one eye and has a crippled foot. He also spends the closing half of the book with cracked ribs after the villain tries to dispose of him. Why all the wet and wounding? Well, MacLean served on the Arctic convoys supplying the Soviet Union during the Second World War and his experiences there never left him or lifted from his writing. I also wonder about an earlier part of his life: his mother-tongue was actually Gaelic, not English, and perhaps that helps explain the drive and directness of his prose. He also has a verbal tic of describing people or things as “very X indeed”. It’s part of his hyperbole, but is it also an echo of some characteristic Gaelicism?

Perhaps, but I wonder about genetics as well as Gaelic. Scots have been disproportionally successful in all areas of Anglophone culture and MacLean, one of the best-selling authors in history, is a good literary example. And if I look at my favourite authors, I find that Scots are disproportionately represented there, one way or another. Ian Fleming had Scottish ancestry, for example, and so did Swinburne and Evelyn Waugh, though Waugh’s surname is actually a form of “Welsh”, from Anglo-Saxon walh, meaning “foreign” (as in walnut, because the tree isn’t native to Britain). And Waugh looked, and drank, remarkably like the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Thomas isn’t one of my favourite writers, though I do recognize his talent. All the same, he may be another example of the link between literary greatness and Celtic genes.

I wouldn’t call MacLean a literary great, but he definitely had talent and could write up a storm. It’s rain-storms in this book; elsewhere, in Night Without End (1959) or Ice Station Zebra (1963), it’s snow-storms. If you want to understand why he sold so many millions, The Satan Bug may be the best place to start. The copy you read may also be older than you are, but my tattered, age-stained, pre-post-code paperback – stamped “At Your Service | 7 Warren Road | Cheadle Hume | Books and Bric-a-Brac | Bought and Sold” – is more enjoyable to read than a modern paperback would be. Black marks on whitish paper create and populate a world: writing is a strange and magical thing. There are two stills from the film-of-the-book on the back cover of my copy, but film is a less strange and less wonderful thing. It still hasn’t caught up with what writing can do and in some ways it never will.

Nor will computer games, but I can see similarities between computer games and The Satan Bug – and also MacLean’s formula-one thriller The Way to Dusty Death, which I’ve re-read at the same time. The Way to Dusty Death has another good title and is another entertaining read, but it’s on the downward slope of Mount MacLean, heading towards the foothills of rubbish like River of Death (1981) and San Andreas (1984). Like The Satan Bug, it’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy for heterosexual males, though it’s not as complete a fantasy as the James Bond books. MacLean’s books are clean books, without sex or lechery, though the glugging of whiskey is often accompanied by the slugging of villains. The Way to Dusty Death isn’t unusual in its slugging, but is in one of its sluggees:

She spat at him. “Fix it yourself.”

Harlow gave no warning. There was a blur of movement and the silencer of the pistol smashed against the blonde’s face. She screamed, staggered and fell to a sitting position, blood welling from gashes on both cheek and mouth.

“Jesus!” Rory was appalled. “Mr Harlow!” (ch. 10)

Like the pistol-whipped blonde, Rory is an unusual character for MacLean. He’s a teenager and was perhaps meant to allow the sons of MacLean’s older fans to think themselves into the story too. It’s good that he didn’t like that pistol-whipping, but the hero Johnny Harlow has a justification for it: the blonde is beautiful, true, but she’s also a cold-blooded murderess, because she’s recently disguised herself as a nurse and fed a sugar-coated cyanide pill to an inconvenient prisoner. Unlike some of the old writers described by George Orwell in his classic essay “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (1944), MacLean needs to give his heroes good excuses for their brutality and bullying. Cavell is trying to save the world in The Satan Bug and Harlow is trying to defeat a heroin-gang in The Road to Dusty to Death.

And get his employer’s kidnapped wife back. He does both, of course, but the book is curiously empty and dream-like by comparison with The Satan Bug. At one point Harlow exchanges idiomatic banter with two French policemen, but MacLean doesn’t bother to say what language they’re talking in. Is Harlow unusually skilled at French or are the policemen unusually skilled at English? No clue is offered: the European setting of the book seems little more than an excuse to include some exotic surnames and places and every character is a walking, talking cliché, from Harlow himself, the world’s greatest racing-driver, to Harlow’s love-interest, the beautiful, black-haired Mary MacAlpine, twenty-year-old daughter of the millionaire owner of the Coronado racing team. But clichés can be compelling, or they wouldn’t be clichés, and the book starts well. This is the opening paragraph:

Harlow sat by the side of the race-track on that hot and cloudless afternoon, his long hair blowing about in the fresh breeze and partially obscuring his face, his golden helmet clutched so tightly in his gauntleted hands that he appeared to be trying to crush it: the hands were shaking uncontrollably and occasional violent tremors racked his entire body.

He has just survived a bad crash. His friend Isaac Jethou hasn’t and is “being cremated in the white-flamed funeral pyre of what had once been his Grand Prix Formula One racing car”. Harlow stares at the flames with “the eyes of an eagle gone blind” and then pours himself brandy in the pits with a “castanet rattle” of bottle on glass. But one difference between him and MacLean’s other heroes is that they drink because they like it. He drinks because he’s pretending to like it, part of a deception to make both his friends and his foes think he’s lost his nerve. This is the scene that greets his boss MacAlpine and a journalist called Dunnett in Harlow’s hotel bedroom after the crash:

Harlow, clad only in shirt and trousers and still wearing his shoes, was stretched out in bed, apparently in an almost coma-like condition. His arm dangled over the side of the bed, his right hand clutching the neck of the whiskey bottle. MacAlpine, grim-faced and almost incredulous, approached the bed, bent over Harlow, sniffed in disgust and removed the bottle from Harlow’s nerveless hand… Both men turned and left the room, closing the broken door behind them. Harlow opened his eyes, rubbed his chin thoughtfully. His hand stopped moving and he sniffed his palm. His wrinkled his nose in distaste. (end of ch. 2)

This book was a wish-fulfilment fantasy for its alcoholic author too, but the theme of deception is everywhere in MacLean’s writing. It’s related to paranoia and sleeplessness, which are two more important themes. Paranoia and sleeplessness go together, in fact, as MacLean must have learnt on the Arctic convoys and Harlow gets little sleep at the end of the book, though he doesn’t get wet. That happens to one of the villains instead, but MacLean doesn’t alter much else and the hero triumphs fully and finally in the end.

This is one way the book differs from a computer-game. Like The Satan Bug, it could supply plot-and-hero for one, but it follows a “linear narrative” and MacLean decides what happens next. Not that I’m knocking linear narratives: DNA follows one too and DNA is responsible for both language and computer-games. The era of language is millennia-old now; the era of computer-games began a few decades ago. The males who once read MacLean books are much more likely to be watching pixels now, but it’s reassuring that my copy of The Way to Dusty Death was published in 2009, part of HarperCollins’ reissue of all MacLean’s novels. I prefer to read MacLean’s novels in editions published before he died in 1987, but I’d be happy to re-read some of them again in any format. And when I say “re-read again”, that’s exactly what I mean: the ones I like I’ve read several times. Others I’ve read once and will not be reading again. The Satan Bug and The Way to Dusty Death are among those I will re-read again. They’re fun, as intended, and thought-provoking, as not always intended. If you’re looking to try MacLean for the first time, I’d recommend The Satan Bug. It’s better-written, better-plotted, and its bio-terror theme hasn’t dated.

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories to be Read with the Lights On, ed. Harold Q. Masur (1973)

A rather illogical title, a rather uninspired collection of crime and detective stories, with the notable exceptions of Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady”, still worth re-reading however often you’ve read it before, and John Keefauver’s “The Pile of Sand”, which creates mystery from the mundane and isn’t about crime or detectives. The police do make an appearance in it, though, part of the ordinariness of an American seaside town touched by something strange involving what it says on the tin: a pile of sand. Where the other stories, even Dahl’s, have endings-that-explain, this has an ending-that-doesn’t. Partly surreal, partly existential, it has a Twilight Zone-ish quality without being about something big enough to make it onto the program, I’d guess.

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The Reversal, Michael Connelly (2010)

As you’d expect from Michael Connelly, the chronicler of Californian crime who now lives in Florida, this book is another detailed examination of the importance of the White Heterosexual Able-Bodied Male, or WHAM. But this time you get a double-dose – in fact, a doubled double-dose. There are pairs of WHAMs on the side of both Good and Evil. The two righteous righters-of-wrong are Harry Bosch, Connelly’s LAPD murder-detective, and his half-brother, the defense attorney Micky Haller, who’s accepted an offer to appear for the prosecution in the re-trial of a child-murderer called Jason Jessup. The murderer doesn’t sound melanin-enriched, does he? But you don’t need his name to know that he isn’t: his crime is enough to ensure he can’t be anything other than a white male, in the Connelly cosmos. And it’s apparent long before the end of the book that he is guilty, although he’s been released on bail and wants to sue the state of California for a false conviction. He was found guilty in the 1980s partly on DNA evidence, when a trace of semen was discovered on the victim’s dress and shown to belong to his blood-group. But it’s turned out that it wasn’t in fact his. Twenty-first-century technology has proved the depraved deposit belonged to someone else – but still a white male, of course.

The girl’s stepfather, in fact. But he hadn’t actually been abusing the girl: she had borrowed the dress from the actual victim of abuse, her slightly older sister. Then she got snatched off the street by Jessup and strangled. Is there no limit to WHAM evil? Not in the Connelly cosmos. But the book raises a related question: Is there no limit to non-WHAM saintliness? If I didn’t know better, I’d almost start to suspect Connelly was taking the piss in one part of The Reversal, when the discoverer of the victim’s corpse testifies at the new trial. The Bosch sections of the book are written in the third person, the Haller sections in the first. Haller describes the witness being brought to the stand:

As I had gone to the lectern Bosch had left the courtroom to retrieve [William] Johnson from a witness waiting-room. He now returned with the man in tow. Johnson was small and thin with a dark mahogany complexion. He was fifty-nine but his pure white hair made him look older. Bosch walked him through the gate and then pointed him in the direction of the witness stand. (pg. 220)

The “dark mahogany complexion” and “pure white hair” are the first stages in the character’s canonization. Here are some more, as the witness identifies himself to the court and describes what he does for a living:

“…I am head of operations for the El Rey theater on Wilshire Boulevard… I make sure everything works right and runs – from the stage lights to the toilets, it’s all part of my job.”

He spoke with a slight Caribbean accent but his words were clear and understandable. (pg. 221)

So he’s Caribbean and highly competent. The saintliness is solidifying, but Connelly isn’t done. The murdered girl was callously dumped in a rubbish-bin by her WHAM killer. Haller projects a police photograph of the scene onto a screen and asks the competent Caribbean to clearly confirm that it is accurate:

“Okay, and is this what you saw when you raised the top [of the bin] and looked inside?”

Johnson didn’t answer my question at first. He just stared like everyone else in the courtroom. Then, unexpectedly, a tear rolled down his dark cheek. It was perfect. If I had been at the defense table I would have viewed it with cynicism. But I knew Johnson’s response was heartfelt and it was why I had made him my first witness.

“That’s her,” he finally said. “That’s what I saw.”

I nodded as Johnson blessed himself. (pg. 220-4)

I, on the other hand, retched. I think writing like that counts as emotional pornography, but this example has an interesting feature: the black saint who is offered for liberal self-gratification isn’t an American black but a foreign one. Is Connelly suggesting that a Caribbean is credible when weeping over the death of a white child, but a native black wouldn’t be? I don’t know, but I do know that the book, like many of Connelly’s previous books, is meant to be titillating in other ways. The details of Jessup’s known and suspected murders – he proves to have floated like a butterfly and stung like a WASP – remind me of something George Orwell said in his essay “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (1944):

It is important to note that by modern standards Raffles’s crimes are very petty ones. Four hundred pounds’ worth of jewellery seems to him an excellent haul. And though the stories are convincing in their physical detail, they contain very little sensationalism – very few corpses, hardly any blood, no sex crimes, no sadism, no perversions of any kind. It seems to be the case that the crime story, at any rate on its higher levels, has greatly increased in blood-thirstiness during the past twenty years. Some of the early detective stories do not even contain a murder. The Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance, are not all murders, and some of them do not even deal with an indictable crime. So also with the John Thorndyke stories, while of the Max Carrados stories only a minority are murders. Since 1918, however, a detective story not containing a murder has been a great rarity, and the most disgusting details of dismemberment and exhumation are commonly exploited. Some of the Peter Wimsey stories, for instance, display an extremely morbid interest in corpses.

That was written at the end of the Second World War. Plus ça change, eh? But something that has definitely changed in detective fiction is the attitude to the societies built by whites in Europe, America, and other parts of the world. Liberal writers like Connelly now attack them constantly: they’re racist, they’re oppressive, they’re evil. The Reversal re-treads a constant Connellyean theme. In several of his previous books, evil WHAMs have committed sex-crimes and hapless non-WHAMs have been unjustly accused instead. In The Reversal, an evil WHAM has committed a sex-crime and a saintly non-WHAM is weeping over the victim. That’s how it works, in the world of Bosch and Haller. But they’re WHAMs too and they’re examples of how, in liberalism, only WHAMs have free will to choose between good and evil. Bosch and Haller choose good and side with the saintly oppressed; Jessup and the stepfather choose evil and commit the oppression against the saints. But the WHAM Connelly and his WHAM fans may soon start to see that their collusion with their critics will not lead to a better world. They may even realize that sex-crimes are not always and everywhere committed by white males. But I suppose that’s what makes Connelly an imaginative writer and The Reversal a work of fiction.

Pre-previously posted (please peruse):

All Bosched-Up

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Readers’ advisory: Contains plot-spoilers and a Nietzsche quote.

Crude, clichéd, but compelling. That’s how I’d describe Michael Connelly’s crime novels. And they’re sometimes clever too. His chief character is a Hiero for our times: jazz-loving Vietnam-vet loner Harry Bosch, a maverick murder detective fighting the flood of evil and horror in Los Angeles. The Bosch books are L.A.P.D. noir – very noir, as Bosch’s full name suggests: Hieronymus Bosch. His unmarried prostitute mother, who was raped and murdered while he was still a boy, named him after the proto-surreal Dutch apocalypticist. The books are also L.A.P.D. P.C. – very P.C. But not very original in their P.C. A sure way to spot a bad lad in a Bosch book is that he uses racist language or expresses racist ideas. This is Bosch’s senior officer, Lieutenant Pounds, visiting a crime scene in South Central L.A.:

There was still a lot of debris in the building’s shell. Charred ceiling beams and timber, broken concrete block and other rubble. Pounds caught up with Bosch and they began carefully stepping through to the gathering beneath the tarp.

“They’ll bulldoze this and make another parking lot,” Pounds said. “That’s all the riots gave the city. About a thousand new parking lots. You want to park in South Central these days, no problem. You want a bottle of soda or to put gas in your car, then you got a problem. They burned every place down. You drive through the South Side before Christmas? They got Christmas tree lots every block, all the open space down there. I still don’t understand why those people burned their own neighborhoods.”

Bosch knew that the fact people like Pounds didn’t understand why “those people” did what they did was one reason they did it, and would have to do it again someday. Bosch looked at it as a cycle. Every twenty-five years or so the city had its soul torched by the fires of reality. But then it drove on. Quickly, without looking back. Like a hit-and-run. (The Concrete Blonde, 1994, ch. 2)

Are you surprised to hear that Pounds meets a bad end? A writer is like a god, creating and controlling a world of his own, and he can ensure that blasphemers like Pounds are punished as they deserve to be. And all too often aren’t in real life, alas: blacks are still groaning under racist oppression not just in Los Angeles but in the U.S. as a whole. Sooner or later, as Bosch sadly but wisely foresees, they “will have” to burn “their own neighborhoods” again.

Which will make their problems worse. But what choice do they have? Blacks aren’t fully human and don’t have free will, intelligence, or reason like whites. That, at least, is what racists think. Racists like Pounds? No, racists like Harry Bosch and his creator Michael Connelly. Think about what is really going on in the passage I quote above. Pounds is puzzled by the arson because it was stupid, irrational, and malign. In other words, his premise is that blacks are intelligent, rational and benign people. The arson of the L.A. riots appears to contradict that premise, so Pounds is puzzled.

Bosch, on the other hand, looks “at it as a cycle”, a natural rhythm of black behaviour. They’re oppressed, so they react by making things worse for themselves. Bosch and his creator are actually white male supremacists, but then that’s because they’re liberals. If you listen to what liberals say, you’ll think that they believe in human equality: that we’re all the same under the skin, regardless of race, sex, sexuality, disability, or any other irrelevant externality-issue factor. If you watch what liberals do, however, you’ll realize that they don’t believe in human equality at all. Liberalism secretly operates on the principle that only one group is fully human. Which group is it? White heterosexual able-bodied males, or WHAMs.

In liberalism, only WHAMs have free will and only WHAMs can be blamed for bad behaviour. They oppress everyone else; everyone else is oppressed by them. That’s why it’s so important to criticize WHAMs, take power off them, and punish them for their sins. They could choose good; instead, they choose evil. But when blacks commit arson, loot, and murder large numbers of people, as they did in the L.A. riots, no blame attaches to them. It’s a cycle, a natural rhythm, as mindless and irrational as an earthquake or hurricane. When blacks misbehave, they’re not to blame. The real immorality is committed by WHAMs like Pounds, who don’t “understand why ‘those people’ did what they did”. But this dichotomy contradicts the official liberal line on human nature: that we’re all the same under the skin and any group is capable of doing anything done by any other group.

For example, the Jewish-American scientist Jared Diamond argues in Guns, Germs and Steel (1997) that European and Asian achievements are entirely owed to geography, not at all to genetics. Blacks in Africa were just as capable of building cathedrals, inventing gunpowder, or landing on the moon, but they weren’t living in the right environment. Note where Diamond’s reasoning also leads: it means that blacks were just as capable of conquering and oppressing whites as vice versa. It’s just an accident of history that whites had black slaves and are still preventing blacks from realizing their gigantic potential. We’re all the same under the skin, so if the geographic dice had rolled differently, the tables would have been turned: blacks would have enslaved whites and would now be preventing whites from realizing their potential. Harry Bosch could have been black, named after a black artistic genius, and L.A. could have been full of poor, downtrodden whites oppressed by a non-white elite. The same goes for all other forms of oppression and bigotry. WHAMs have used their power to oppress non-WHAMs, but non-WHAMs are just as capable of being oppressors, when they get the chance. That is the clear logic of liberal dogma on human nature.

How often do you hear liberals point that logic out? I’ve never heard them point it out at all, because they don’t really believe it. Their aim is not to end injustice against non-WHAMs but to induce guilt in WHAMs, whether it’s deserved or not. But even if it is deserved, it can’t be culpable, if we follow the logic of “We’re All the Same under the Skin”. If liberal ideology is correct, it’s absurd for liberals to be self-righteous and indignant about racism, sexism, homophobia, and other evil WHAM prejudices. We’re all essentially the same, so we’re all potential oppressors and it’s merely chance that group W is oppressing groups X, Y, and Z. But have you ever heard liberals say that? No, they always blame wilful evil by group W, and seem to think that X, Y, and Z, by virtue of being oppressed, have some special saintly status. They can’t have, if liberal dogma is correct. It isn’t, but liberals don’t believe in it anyway: dogma is for preaching, not for practising. The truth is that liberalism, like the overt religions it so often criticizes, isn’t really out to achieve its loudly proclaimed goals. It isn’t really about ending oppression and injustice: it’s about gaining power and money by inducing guilt and censoring dissent. Those who complain most loudly about injustice are often those who are most eager to practice it:

If the suffering and oppressed lost the faith that they have the right to despise the will to power, they would enter the phase of hopeless despair. This would be the case if this trait were essential to life and it could be shown that even in this will to morality this very “will to power” is hidden, and even this hatred and contempt were still a will to power. The oppressed would come to see that they were on the same plain as the oppressors, without prerogative, without higher rank. (The Will to Power, Book One: European Nihilism, #55, translated by Walter Kaufmann)

Also sprach – thus spoke – Friedrich Nietzsche, a WHAM from the nineteenth century who remains one of the best and most acute critics of the self-contradictions, absurdities, and evils of liberalism, of whatever variety: the genuine variety, as preached by benevolent men like John Stuart Mill in the 19th century, or the crypto-Marxist variety, as preached by malevolent women like Hillary Clinton in the 21st.

I call Hillary “malevolent” because I’m an evil anti-liberal WHAM, of course. As a liberal WHAM, Michael Connelly does not believe in wilful female malevolence. Female misbehaviour, like black misbehaviour, is really the fault of WHAMs. At least, that was the line he plugged for many years. A wilfully malevolent female has finally turned up in one of his books, but you won’t need to told what race she is. She is certainly not a “sister”, literal or otherwise, of Kizmin “Kiz” Rider, the black lesbian detective who partners Bosch in Trunk Music (1997) and Angels Flight (1999). Rider has “grown up in south L.A.” and, because she combines three richly vibrant strands of non-WHAM-ness, she doesn’t stay long in the murder squad. She’s head-hunted by the Chief’s office, though she continues to help Bosch in his struggle against WHAM evil.

But Rider does offer strong hints that Connelly isn’t a fully orthodox liberal. For example, she gets herself shot and wounded by a serial killer in Angels Flight and she’s become too tied to the L.A.P.D. bureaucracy in The Drop (2011). Bosch is disappointed in her, though he does recognize that she’s been corrupted by a white system. And the serial killer who shot her is white, of course: Connelly is fully orthodox in never admitting that WHAMs are actually under-represented in serial killing, not the reverse. However, hints of his heterodoxy are apparent again in Jerry Edgar, another of Bosch’s black partners. In The Black Echo (1992), the first book in the Bosch series, Edgar is more attached to his part-time estate-agency work than he is to solving murders. Unlike Bosch, he doesn’t have “a wire in the blood” that drags him to devote his life to fighting the WHAM evil that ravages the world. He doesn’t think that “everybody counts or nobody counts” and, unlike Bosch, who’s driven on by memories of his mother’s death, he won’t devote as much effort to the murder of a homeless drug-addict as to the murder of a high-powered lawyer or city-councillor. He even ends up betraying Bosch and passing information about one of their cases to a journalist on the L.A. Times.

After those two black partners, both of whom fall short of their mentor’s standards, Bosch has a Hispanic-American partner, Ignacio “Iggy” Ferras, in The Overlook (2007), The Brass Verdict (2008), and 9 Dragons (2009). He has a Chinese-American partner, David Chu, in 9 Dragons and The Drop. But Kiz Rider re-appears in The Drop to be told something decidedly heterodox about the Rodney King beating, the appalling act of WHAM evil that caused the L.A. riots. Although Rider is black, she’s also a policewoman, so Bosch feels able to take a pro-police line on the beating. The L.A.P.D., he points out, had previously relied on choke-holds to subdue violent suspects quickly and effectively. But choke-holds were killing too many blacks, liberals said, and they were complaining more and more loudly about police racism. Bosch describes the consequences of their compassion and concern:

“…the department then told the officers to rely more on their batons… Added to that, Tasers were coming into use just as the choke hold went out. And what did we get? Rodney King. A video that changed the world. A video of a guy being tased and whaled on with batons when a proper choke hold would’ve just put him to sleep.”

“Huh,” Rider said. “I never looked at it that way.” (Op. cit., pp. 173-4)

Many liberal readers of the Bosch books will never have looked at it that way either. But those hints of heterodoxy are rare: in the main, Connelly and his characters are fully orthodox. In the chaotic world of Harry Bosch, few things are certain. Death is one. WHAM evil is another. A third is: ethnic minorities never ever ever commit sex-crimes, let alone sex-crimes of a particularly violent and unpleasant kind. If a black or Hispanic is charged with a rape-murder in a Connelly book, you can be certain that a horrendous miscarriage of justice is under way and that Bosch or Micky Haller, Bosch’s lawyer half-brother and star of his own series, will be riding to the rescue.

But by following that liberal line on sex-crime and miscarriages of justice, Connelly is again being a white male supremacist. The active, interesting roles – those of sex-slayer and injustice-overturner – are taken by WHAMs. The passive, accidental role – the poor shmuck whom the racist WHAM system found in the wrong place at the wrong time – is taken by a non-WHAM. Black ’bangas and Hispanic homies are minor characters in a drama that centres on Bosch or Haller. Non-WHAMs suffer from evil, but they don’t create it or fight it the way WHAMs do. Nor do black lesbians like Kiz Rider. Although she lets Bosch down by getting too close to the L.A.P.D. bureaucracy, she isn’t responsible for its machinations. No, WHAMs like Irvine Irving are. He’s the Machiavellian Deputy Chief of Police Bosch clashes with repeatedly until Irving is hoist on his own petard and forced to retire at the end of The Closers (2005). He then becomes a city-councillor and in The Drop he’s putting his Machiavellian skills to work against the L.A.P.D. rather than for it. I suspect that Connelly is orchestrating the Bosch series towards what will be, for Bosch, a shattering revelation: that Irving, who knew Bosch’s prostitute-mother as a beat-officer, is his real father, not the famous attorney whom Bosch has recognized as such till now.

Whether or not that proves true, the way Connelly develops his characters is one of the things I admire about his books: despite the occasionally clumsy prose, Bosch seems to inhabit a real world with real people in it, including him. The Bosch who began the series in 1992 is not the same as the Bosch who continues it in 2012. He’s older, greyer, more scarred, and with more unhappy romantic history behind him. He also had a history when he began the series in The Black Echo: losing his mother as a boy, he went from a series of children’s homes and foster-families into the army, which sent him to fight in Vietnam as one of the “tunnel rats”, the soldiers who went into the tunnel-network dug by the Viet Cong. Connelly acknowledges two more compelling authors at the beginning of The Black Echo: “Tom Mangold and John Pennycate, whose book The Tunnels of Cu Chi tells the real story of the tunnel rats of the Vietnam war.” Fighting underground like that took a special kind of personality and a special kind of physique. Bosch is slight but strong and wiry, not big and muscle-bound, and he has balls of steel. He puts his wiry strength to work occasionally in the books, but only against other WHAMs. He puts his balls to work too, but only with WHAFs. One of the WHAFs bears him a daughter, but he doesn’t learn about this till a later book.

By then, Bosch fans will already know that Connelly has an interest in both pornography and paedophilia. He wouldn’t be writing about those things so often otherwise. Indeed, he occasionally combines the two interests and writes about kiddie porn. The murder-victim in The Concrete Blonde is a porn-actress called Magna Cum Loudly and Bosch has to enter the seedy and sleazy world of L.A.’s adult porn industry to track down her WHAM killer. Kiddie porn turns up in both City of Bones (2002) and Angels Flight (1999). In the latter, circumstantial evidence implicates a black petty criminal in a paedophile sex-murder, but he didn’t do it, of course. The victim turns out to be have been pimped out on-line by her WHAM father.

Is there no end to WHAM evil? Not in the Bosch books, but I do sometimes have to wonder about what is going on in the depths of Connelly’s mind. Bosch discovers he has a beautiful young daughter in Lost Light (2003), but in 9 Dragons she’s living an ocean away in Hong Kong with her mother, the ex-FBI agent Eleanor Wish. However, Wish is killed off before the end of that book and Bosch is living alone with his daughter in The Drop. Can you say Lolita? If you can, I wonder if Connelly’s subconscious is saying it too. Lolita (1955) was another study of WHAM evil and I found myself unable to re-read it when I tried it again recently. It got too yucky. I’ve found the same with some of Connelly’s books, both ones with Bosch and ones without him. Or ones that don’t centre on him, because his characters wander in and out of each other’s series. It’s an interesting way for Connelly to shift perspective and compare and contrast his own creations. Bosch is big in his own series, but sometimes peripheral elsewhere. One of the best Connelly books may be in the shortest series: the two books devoted to the crime-reporter Jack McEvoy, The Poet (1996) and The Scarecrow (2009). The latter was one of the books I couldn’t finish when I tried it again. A dumb black ’banga is charged with a gruesome sex-murder, but surprise, surprise: the murder was really committed by a WHAM serial killer with a leg-iron fetish and a very high IQ. The Poet I could finish when I tried it again. It’s gruesome too, but I liked its clever plot and its use of Edgar Allan Poe.

I also liked the clever plot of Blood Work (1998), a non-Bosch which is the only book I’ve ever felt compelled to re-read immediately I had finished it. The twist at the end of the book cast everything that happened before it into a new light, so I was almost experiencing a different book when I read it again. That is good writing and Connelly deserves his huge success, though I don’t think he would have been allowed to have it if he hadn’t toed the liberal line from the very beginning. I don’t like the fact that Connelly is a liberal, but I do think there’s hope for him. And I definitely admire his ability to produce interesting books at a rate of more than one a year since 1992. When The Black Box is published later this month (November 2012), it will be the seventeenth Bosch book and the twenty-sixth of Connelly’s crime-novels altogether. They’re sometimes crude, sometimes contrived, but usually compelling and often clever too. He’s wrong to slam so relentlessly on WHAMs, but coming events will show him the error of his ways. And slamming WHAMs is a tribute to their importance: whether he knows it or not, Connelly has always been a white male supremacist. Harry Bosch, like the painter he was named after, is an example of why WHAMs matter, why they’re so envied and hated, and why liberalism, with the help of many WHAMs, is so desperate to do them down.

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