home     authors     titles     dates     links     about

the closers

2 october 2010

The Closers is the first of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch mysteries that I've read. I'm not being terribly systematic about this. The Closers is the eleventh of sixteen in a series that also intersects with some other series and quasi-series of crime novels by Connelly. But I found it for sixty-six cents at a thrift store, and this week I needed something that would be a guaranteed distraction in a waiting room. The Closers delivered.

Harry Bosch, a loose cannon of a homicide detective, has already retired and unretired when his eleventh novel begins. He's donned the badge to solve cold cases; in baseball parlance, he's a "closer." Though actually baseball closers enter the game when it's all but won, and prevent the lead from evaporating. Cold-case detectives aren't anything like that. In books and on TV, at any rate, they pick up desperately baffling murders and construct cases out of the thinnest of lingering clues. The correct baseball metaphor would be "late-inning mop-up reliever on the losing side of a blowout," but that's harder to print on the cover of a paperback.

I would venture a timid guess that 17-year-old unsolved homicides are not cleared in real life at anything like the rate the obtains in paperbacks. But in Connelly's Los Angeles, the captain of the cold-case squad can say things like "I think the containment on this is another twenty-four hours tops . . . There's going to be hair on the walls if we don't wrap it up first" (387). And of course they do.

They do because Harry Bosch gets the bright idea to dust a 17-year-old crime scene for fingerprints – well, that's a little misleading, though accurate enough. They can wrap up the case because they've been set up: the long-ago murder that Harry and his partner Kiz Rider are investigating involves a shameful bit of police corruption that a new chief is determined to bring into the light of day.

As well as drawing from cold-case formulas (at one point the TV show Cold Case is invoked, and I swear I've seen a very close version of the same story on that program), The Closers inhabits the corrupt LAPD universe that became the special province of James Ellroy (in novels like LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia). Ellroy himself is mentioned by the characters, as is the Dahlia; Connelly knows that he has to be a little bit meta about his fiction.

I may seem to be damning The Closers for being made up of bits and pieces of other books plus some stock material from several crime-fiction subgenres. But that's not quite how detective-fiction criticism operates. Nothing is ever really new behind the badge. We don't want unique material; we want a tightly-plotted story that we can groove to from the first page instead of having to reinvent the wheels of the policier every time out. And The Closers certainly fulfills that demand.

Connelly, Michael. The Closers. 2005. New York: Warner, 2006.