Harry Bosch has had plenty of partners, but he might have met his match.
In his long career as a Los Angeles detective in 20 bestselling novels by Michael Connelly, the driven Bosch has shared countless surveillance hours and bad cups of coffee with the likes of Frankie Sheehan, Jerry Edgar and Iggy Ferras. Many of his professional partners — Kiz Rider, Rachel Walling, Lucia Soto, Bella Lourdes — have been women.
Bosch’s latest partner, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard, is different. Unlike all those other partners, Ballard is a lot like Bosch himself, which makes for a very interesting work dynamic.
Bosch is Connelly’s great creation, one of those complicated but beloved characters that readers always want more of, a presence in most of the author’s 11 other novels and the driving force of his namesake Amazon TV series, now moving into its fifth season.
Connelly, who has a home in Tampa, introduced Ballard in 2017 in a stand-alone novel, The Late Show. A reserved, athletic woman in her 30s, Ballard is a gifted investigator, the second-youngest woman to make detective in the LAPD. But her promising career was sidetracked into the undesirable overnight shift that gave that book its title.
Bosch got a nod in The Late Show, but Ballard held center stage. Connelly’s new novel, Dark Sacred Night, is a duet, with the two detectives meeting, warily circling each other and then teaming up to pursue a heartbreaking cold case, with sections of the book alternating between their points of view.
On his website, Connelly writes that he originally though Ballard would be a one-time character, but she stayed with him: “It has been my pattern over many, many novels to bring characters together, have them cross paths. To me, all of my books are related. They are one big mosaic and while it is true that the centerpiece of that mosaic is Harry Bosch, the canvas is wide and there is plenty of room for other characters.”
Connelly has written several novels featuring Bosch’s half brother, lawyer Mickey Haller, as well as stand-alones about other Bosch-adjacent characters. But none of them has clicked with Bosch in the way that Ballard does — like a master with a student who could become his equal.
The two meet when Ballard comes into the detective bureau to write reports in the wee hours and finds a stranger rifling through cabinets of old case files. She braces him, and Bosch spins her a yarn with just enough truth to leave her intrigued. She knows his reputation in the LAPD, and she learns that he has retired and is now a volunteer at the tiny San Fernando police department, working cold cases.
Although he claimed he had a key to his old file drawers, Bosch used a twisted paper clip to unlock them; the next day, Ballard uses the same clip to let herself into the former drunk-tank cell that Bosch is using as an office at San Fernando. When Bosch arrives, he’s intrigued in turn, and they talk.
The cold case that has him hooked, he tells Ballard, the one he was looking for files about at the LAPD, is the murder nine years before of Daisy Clayton. The 15-year-old runaway’s body was found in an alley off Cahuenga Boulevard. She had been sexually assaulted, tortured and strangled, her body washed in bleach to remove evidence except for a curious imprint on the skin of one hip.
The investigation stalled long ago, as investigations into the deaths of drug-abusing teenage prostitutes do. Bosch got interested when, in the last book about him, 2017’s Two Kinds of Truth, he met Daisy’s mother, a woman wrecked by grief and addiction to opioids.
Elizabeth Clayton is now drug-free and living at Bosch’s house in the Hollywood Hills. It’s not a romance, Bosch says, it’s just that Elizabeth doesn’t know where to go. But her presence is straining his relationship with daughter Maddie, now a college student. It’s also feeding his interest in the cold case. As his former partner Lucia Soto will tell Ballard, he “knows the victim’s mother. He’s doing it for her. Like a dog with a bone.”
That’s one of the most important similarities between Bosch and Ballard, who “had never been the kind of detective who could leave the work in a drawer at the end of shift. She carried it with her and it was her empathy that fueled her.” She volunteers to help with Daisy’s case, and soon she and Bosch are prowling the Los Angeles streets where the girl met her fate, tracking leads together that range from a street preacher’s baptismal room to a porn producer’s headquarters.
Although the relationship between Ballard and Bosch crackles on the page, the tension isn’t sexual. For one thing, their interest in each other is professional, something like a pair of world-class chess players in a match, one-upping each other and learning from it.
For another, flirtation would run counter to the tone of Dark Sacred Night, a book whose dark core is sexual violence against women. Ballard is working the late show because she reported a superior’s attempt to sexually assault her; the assignment is a slapback from the department’s heavily male power structure. (The man who attacked her is now — irony alert — supervising a task force investigating sexual harassment in Hollywood.)
Connelly doesn’t just give us that example, though. Throughout Dark Sacred Night, Ballard deals with sexism and harassment, from a strip club owner who asks her if she wants a job while she’s investigating a burglary to male supervisors who fail to send backup when she calls for it. As always, Connelly weaves other cases around the main investigation; one Ballard handles involves a famous comedian accused of rape by a young woman he picks up at a club. It plays out in a way that requires all of Ballard’s professional detachment.
Unlike a lot of his male peers, Bosch is sensitive to Ballard’s struggles. Part of it is being the father of a daughter; part of it is the impact of so many cases like Daisy’s, in which male privilege and misogyny lead to the worst kinds of violence, its victims so often women and girls. And part of it boils down to Bosch’s mantra: “Everybody matters, or nobody matters.” It’s a code with no gender exceptions.
The two do bond, though, with Bosch confiding in her about his daughter and his war experiences. We discover parallels in their pasts as well. Each had an absent parent (Bosch’s lawyer father, who had another family, and Ballard’s “missing in action” mother) and another parent who died under traumatizing circumstances: Bosch’s mother murdered when he was a boy, Ballard’s surfer dad paddling out to sea one day and never returning, leaving his young daughter on the beach.
Those moments don’t slow the plot, however, which charges ahead through Daisy’s case as well as others, like Bosch’s dive into a long-ago gang murder, which will have serious repercussions. Ballard and Bosch both face complicated challenges to their personal ethics, challenges born not out of greed or fear but of their burning desire to make things right.
Through it all, they challenge each other. Ballard brings a fresh perspective, and Bosch brings all the things so many readers love about him.
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.