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Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World by Alex NewsonFifty Bicycles That Changed the World, Alex Newson (Conran Octopus 2013)

Bicycles are good things. They’re cleaner, quieter and compacter than cars, but I understand the irritation that many people feel towards them. Bikes and pedestrians often compete for the same space and not all riders are considerate. But bike-ophobia isn’t a rational prejudice: for destruction and deadliness, bikes are to cars rather as the common cold is to cholera. Like trains, they’ve changed the world for the better, not the worse, because they don’t impose huge changes on cities and the countryside or poison the psychology of those who use them.

This book is a celebration of man-powered two-wheeled transport. It looks at fifty world-changing bikes, from the Laufmaschine of c. 1817, which had two wheels but no pedals, to the electric bikes of the early 21st century. These bikes, with their sophisticated long-life batteries, have finally ended what might be called “bicymplicity”. Bicycles were a machine that people could understand at a glance and repair for themselves in a few minutes. They’ve been a cheap and reliable form of transport right around the world for well over a century.

But how much have they actually changed the world? One big way may have been that they expanded the horizons not just of travellers but of suitors too, particularly in a big country like France. Exogamy became easier, so bikes may have changed our genetics and not just our muscles. Perhaps that exogamic assistance helps explain the popularity of cycling in France. But Great Britain has dominated the sport in recent years, as this book describes and illustrates: there’s a photograph of Chris Hoy, insect-eyed in a cycling helmet, celebrating his gold medal in the “London 2012 Olympic Games men’s keirin final” (pg. 103).

Chris Hoy at the 2012 Olympics

Chris Hoy at the 2012 Olympics


Where has this British success come from? The book doesn’t have much text and doesn’t provide much of an answer. Nor does it explain some other patterns that are obvious as you look through it. Cycling is a very white sport, even though bikes are very popular in China:

The Flying Pigeon is synonymous with China. Since the first Flying Pigeon was produced in 1950 more than 500 millions units have been made, making it not just the most popular bicycle ever produced, but the most popular vehicle ever. (“Flying Pigeon PA-02, c. 1950”, pg. 34)

That page also notes that “China’s reformist leader Deng Xiaoping defined prosperity as ‘a Flying Pigeon in every household’.” The definition of prosperity has changed in China since then, which is why the country has such a bad problem with pollution. Bikes don’t pollute and don’t cut us off from the natural world. In fact, they have almost become part of it. As you’ll see reading through this book, bike frames have evolved almost like skeletons and in the extreme environment of BMX competition they’ve even lost their seats, becoming a minimalist combination of wheels, pedals, chain and handlebars.

Bikes can take us further out into the natural world too, as the page about mountain biking describes. Like skateboarding, mountain biking began in California and there’s a good picture of two young men, bikes at the ready, gazing down into a mist-filled, pine-covered valley. But I don’t think bikes are the best way to travel through a wilderness. They churn up the ground less than motorbikes but more than boots. Walking is still the quintessentially human way of moving about on the earth’s surface. Or perhaps you could say quintessentially hominid. In which case, perhaps we’re at our most human on a bike.

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Front cover of Watch You Bleed by Stephen DavisWatch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns n’ Roses, Stephen Davis (Michael Joseph 2008)

The back cover calls the book “AN EPIC TALE OF EXCESS, DEBAUCHERY, ADDICTION, PARANOIA, MANIA AND GREAT F**KING MUSIC”. It gets five out of six right. Stephen Davis is also the author of the Led-Zeppography Hammer of the Gods, first published in 1985. Since then, his writing has got better and his subjects have got worse. I don’t like Led Zeppelin much and I don’t think Robert Plant is a very good singer. But Led Zep sound good set beside Guns n’ Roses. They sound subtle too. A few of GNR’s songs start well. I forget what happens to them after that. As for “November Rain”… Sheesh. It’s so wrong on so few levels that it’s probably prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Yes, you understand American foreign policy better after hearing – and watching – what GNR do to rock music:

Niven cautions that Guns didn’t think Spinal Tap was funny. (ch. 6, “The Big Guns n’ Roses Adventure”, pg. 159)

But the main explanation for what’s wrong with GNR isn’t that they found success while based in Los Angeles. That isn’t fatal for a band. Mötley Crüe did too, but they are entertainingly cartoonish. GNR are obnoxiously cartoonish. No, the main explanation for what’s wrong with GNR is simple: W. Axl Rose. Davis holds his nose – hard – and takes the lid off the kid from Lafayette, Indiana. Racism, sexism, homophobia, killing small dogs – it’s all here in unflinching detail. But Axl has a bad side too. And the cycling shorts are by no means the worst of it. There’s also the plagiarism:

Then something crucial happened. Photographer Robert John took Axl to see a group he was shooting: Shark Island, the house band at Gazzari’s on the Strip. Shark Island was supposed to be a great metal band, but they were too fond of melodies, plus their hair was all wrong, and so they would never break out of the L.A. metal circuit. But Richard Black, Shark Island’s lead singer, was a charismatic front man with killer stage moves, the kind of small-venue choreography that could make a packed club break out in a communal, drenching sweat and get the joint rocking on its foundations. Axl watched Richard Black with total fascination and then proceeded to appropriate his act. …

According to Robert John, “In Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns, Axl jumped straight up and down, holding onto the mike stand for balance. Axl later admitted he’d got the whole snake move, that S-curve, from Richard. He once told me that he even wanted Richard to somehow get credit for this. Most of Axl’s moves” – the headlong run across the stage, the furious stomp, holding the mike stand straight out with both hands, the blatantly sexual snake dance – “that’s all Richard Black.” (ch. 4, “The Treacherous Journey”, pp. 60-1)

In a better world, Shark Island might have had the big success and GNR the bit-part in their four-hundred-page biography. But success would probably have corrupted Shark Island too and swollen Richard Black’s head. Still, it’s impossible to believe that they would ever have become as bloated and excessive as GNR or that Black could ever have out-assholed Axl. GNR are one of the Big Three among the bands that I hate. The other two are The Clash and Oasis. But GNR are odious in a more entertaining way than those two. I can’t imagine even picking up a biography of The Clash. And if I ever try a biography of Oasis, it will be strictly out of primatological interest. This, on the other hand, is a readable book about risible people. I couldn’t read all of it, but it’s hard to believe Stephen Davis doesn’t sometimes feel the same about the people:

One time, after [Bret] Michael [of Poison] had slagged Guns, Axl confronted Poison backstage and told them, to their face, that they sucked. Bobby Dall, whose band already had a record deal, replied: “Maybe fucking so – but you gotta suck, sometimes, to make it in this business – and you guys will never make it at all.”

This stuck in Axl’s craw. Sucking was against everything W. Axl Rose believed in. (ch. 3, “The Treacherous Journey”, pp. 74-5)

That’s funny and I hope that Davis meant it to be. But the joke wears thin well before the end of this book. Okay, three of the band – Axl, Slash and Duff McKagan – looked good for a bit, early on, but the best thing GNR ever did was inspire this article in The Guardian:

Minute five: Is mainly taken up with Slash being a rock god. For those readers who are unfamiliar with this song – which is possibly a criminal act, may I add – you know when Regina Spektor sings “The solo’s real long, but it’s a pretty song” in “On the Radio”? This is the solo she means.

A helicopter flies around Slash, giving us rockgodness from all angles, although possibly putting his cigarette out in the process, which is not a bad thing, as it will kill you.

Smoking, I mean, not guitar solos. Although if any guitar solo could kill, it would be this one. You can tell Slash is a rock god because his stance is so wide he is almost doing the splits. (Read on: Guns N’ Roses – November Rain)


Elsewhere other-posted:

• More Musings on Music

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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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