The King of California Noir

Who’s the King of California Noir? Michael Connelly. Some might say Raymond Chandler (his protagonist was Philip Marlowe) or Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade). Others might make a case for Alfred Hitchcock. You don’t have to be a writer to be the King. However, in my eyes, Connelly is the reigning King of California Noir. His output surpasses that of Chandler or Hammett, but that’s not all. Harry (short for Hieronymus) Bosch, Connelly’s protagonist, is a more realistic and enduring lead than either Marlowe or Spade.

This post introduces Connelly’s Bosch series (it doesn’t review a particular novel). The Detective Harry Bosch novels are set in Los Angeles. Bosch is an LAPD detective. He’s a Vietnam vet, a former “tunnel rat” who operated in the vast underground mazes used by the Vietcong. He has no pretensions, and no patience for those who do. He’s tough and diligent, but he’s not a wooden macho man, not overly taciturn or snarky. Unlike Sam Spade, for example, Bosch is not hard-boiled to the core, which makes him an easier man to know. Hammett shows very little of Spade’s emotions and only the manly side. After all, Spade was a hard-edged dick. I’m not denigrating Hammett’s fictional MO. He wrote in the 1920s and 30s; hard-boiled was the schtick.

Connelly’s Bosch novels deliver plenty of explanatory details, making it easy to follow the story. Admittedly, that can slow the pace. He’s partial to what I call Hollywood plotting, such as extended car chases, but, hey, the books are set in LA. He’s more mainstream than Ian Rankin, for example. In some places, Connelly’s info-dumps are too long. Ditto for his police procedural details. At times, the prose is workman-like, which is not surprising given his prodigious output, almost a book a year. However, I’m OK with all of that. I get sharply plotted whodunits. I get a tough yet sympatico protagonist. I get LA. (I used to live there – shout-out to Irv and his family – and get a kick out of Bosch’s LA. Nostalgia Noir, eh.)

A few quotes from the Bosch opus ….

“Bosch knew every trick there was when it came to planting obfuscation and misdirection in a murder book. He could write a how-to manual on the art of turning the [pre-trial] discovery into a nightmare for a defense lawyer. It had been his routine practice back in the day to redact words in reports without rhyme or reason, to intermittently remove the toner cartridge from the squad room photocopier so that pages and pages he was turning over were printed so lightly they were impossible or at least headache-inducing to read.”

“Bosch never got used to viewing crime scenes. He had been to hundreds of them and seen the result of human inhumanity too many times to count. He always thought that if he got used to it, then he had lost something inside that was needed to do the job right. You had to have an emotional response. It was that response that lit the match that started the fire.”

Postscript: Standby for reviews of individual Bosch novels.

Sister-in-Law by M.R. Morgan

Sister-in-Law by M. R. Morgan. Black Opal Books. 2018.

Reviewed by A.M. Potter. ® 2019.

You don’t have to follow US politics or love political/psychological thrillers to be captured by this novel. It draws you in — even if you’re oblivious to Washington DC. If you’ve shut out the US Feds, disregard your past proclivities and dive into Sister-in-Law. Although I grew up in the US and Canada, I now live in Canada. However, place of residence doesn’t matter. Sister-in-Law is accessible to anyone and everyone.

Morgan’s plotline is clever without being unnecessarily circuitous. His prose is clear and precise. His characters’ motivations are easy to comprehend. However, he doesn’t spoon-feed you. He delivers exactly what you need. You fill in the rest.

I’m not going to expand on the plotline (a troubled seductress becomes the president’s sister-in-law to get to the president himself; echoes of Marilyn Monroe, anyone), other than to say that the sister-in-law gets to her target. And that’s not a spoiler alert. It’s what happens along the way that counts. Enjoy the twists. Get your politics with a bang (double-entendre intended). Given the current political climate in Washington (shutdowns, disarray, doublespeak), you might be wishing the president actually had a sister-in-law.

The King of Scottish Noir

Who’s the King of Scottish Noir? Ian Rankin. Hands down. Some might say Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886, but I see him as the father. In any case, Rankin’s output far surpasses that of Stevenson.

This is not a review of a particular Ian Rankin novel. It’s a quick introduction to the author’s Rebus opus. The Rebus novels are mostly set in or near Edinburgh. Inspector John Rebus is a hard-edge, no-nonsense police detective with a philosopher’s head and heart. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He doesn’t always play by the rules. If I were murdered, he’s the kind of detective I’d like on my case.    

In the Rebus novels, Rankin deploys banter to counter the bleak reality of Scottish crime. He portrays tough criminals who are tougher men. The cops who hunt them are just as tough. Aye, but there’s humour too, of the Scottish ilk. Gruff, understated and, given the juxtaposition, funny as hell.  

At times, the plotting and crime MOs seem over-the-top. Some readers find the novels overly bleak and depressing. They are cut from the cloth of real life. When I read a Rebus novel, I get punched in the gut, I sometimes feel numb, I wonder how s**t like this happens. But I keep reading. That’s what I want from the King of Scottish Noir.

A few quotes from the Rebus opus ….

On John Rebus himself:

“Often he declined invitations, because to accept them meant that he had to dust off his brogues, iron a shirt, brush down his best suit, take a bath, and splash on some cologne. He also had to be affable, to drink and be merry, to talk to strangers with whom he had no inclination to talk and with whom he was not being paid to talk. In other words, he resented having to play the part of a normal human animal.”

“What would he do with a million pounds? Same as he’d do with fifty-thousand. Self destruct. Only faster.”

On Scottish life:

“Rebus hated the smiles and the manners of the Sunday-dressed Scottish Protestant, the emphasis on a communion not with God but with your neighbours. He had tried seven churches of varying denominations, and found none to be to his liking.”

Rebus on racism:

“It’s an emotive subject to be sure … and yet I have to deal with it every single day. I think Scotland was complacent for many years. We don’t have room for racism here, no way, we’re too busy with bigotry!”

On crimes:

“Men were childlike. But that was men for you. Simple pleasures and simple crimes. Male revenge was simple almost to the point of being infantile. You went up to the bastard and you stuck your fist into his face or kneed him in the nuts. But the revenge of the female. Ah, that was recondite stuff.”

“Rebus played with the jigsaw puzzle of the crime. It was coming together, though it was a slow business. Errors were made. And an error, once made, led to more pieces of the jigsaw being placed incorrectly, until the whole thing had to be broken up and started again.”