As Michael Connelly’s extraordinary new novel, The Dark Hours, begins, all of Los Angeles is waiting for 2020, that miserable year, to end.
LAPD Detective Renée Ballard knows the safest place to be at the stroke of midnight: under the Cahuenga overpass, in the middle of a homeless encampment.
Every cop on the force is working on New Year’s Eve, and Ballard is a veteran of the duty. She knows what’s coming at midnight: “A gunshot symphony. For a solid five minutes, there was an unbroken onslaught as revelers of the new year fired their weapons into the sky, following a Los Angeles tradition of decades.”
Park your car under the freeway and avoid those bullets when they all fall. It works for Ballard and her unwilling partner of the evening, a sex crimes detective named Lisa Moore.
But Javier Raffa is not so lucky. The owner of an auto tow yard was hosting a neighborhood keg party in his parking lot when he dropped. No one saw him get hit — at least no one who stuck around to talk to the police.
Just minutes into the new year, Ballard has her first case. Raffa doesn’t survive, and when she checks his body at the hospital, the gunpowder particles in his hair tell her he was no accidental victim. He was shot from inches away, under cover of the midnight barrage.
Moore is ready to shrug off the case and let the day shift pick it up. She’s a burnout a few years from retirement, planning to spend those years doing lots of paperwork and minimal investigating.
Normally the dedicated, hard-charging Ballard would have nothing but scorn for Moore’s attitude. But things are different in 2021. “The pandemic and protests had changed everything,” Connelly writes. “The department went from being proactive to reactive. And the change had somehow cast Ballard adrift. She had found herself more than once thinking about quitting. That is, until the Midnight Men came along. They had given her purpose.”
Ballard is teamed with Moore because of the Midnight Men. That’s the name Ballard has given to a pair of “tag team” rapists who have already struck twice, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
Two rapists working together is unusual, and this pair has other distinctive and horrifying markers: They attack their sleeping victims in their own beds, with no signs of breaking and entering, blindfold and bind them, and stay for hours. They leave no DNA. They chop off a hank of each victim’s hair and take it with them. And they strike on holidays.
Sure enough, on New Year’s Day, Ballard finds herself talking to their latest target, Cindy Carpenter. The attack on her bears all the markers of the Midnight Men. And Ballard is appalled to discover that Carpenter lives in the Dell, a neighborhood just blocks from the Cahuenga overpass, where Ballard was sitting “right when these guys were up there behind me.”
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
According to the rule book, Ballard should hand off the Raffa murder and work the rape case with Moore. But Moore has sneaked off for an unauthorized weekend with her boyfriend, and Ballard wants to hang onto the murder case: “She knew this could be the solve she needed to save herself.”
So she pursues both cases on her own — which is how she likes to work. At one point in The Dark Hours, her lieutenant moves her to the day shift, thinking he’s rewarding her for work well done. He’s flabbergasted when she storms into his office demanding to return to the late show.
The events of 2020 have upended Ballard’s personal life as well as her professional one. She caught COVID-19 and went through three weeks of illness; now she’s eagerly awaiting the vaccine. Her former nomadic practice of getting off the late shift, going surfing and sleeping in a tent on the beach ended when the beaches were closed by the pandemic. Her beloved pit bull mix, Lola, died of cancer. Now she’s living alone and uncomfortably in a condo, scrolling websites for rescue dogs.
She catches a lucky break when the shell casing from Raffa’s murder pings a match on another case from almost 10 years before. The shooting death of Albert Lee in a robbery is unsolved. Then Ballard catches an even better break: The original investigator on Lee’s case was Harry Bosch.
It takes no time at all for Ballard and the now-retired Bosch to fall into their old rhythm, working the murders as related cases.
They also fall into their comfortable banter. When Ballard goes to Bosch’s house to go over the case, she’s surprised he’s listening to a new cover version of jazz classic Compared to What by John Legend and the Roots.
“I didn’t think you listened to anything recorded in this century.”
“That hurts, Ballard.”
At first glance the victims, Raffa and Lee, don’t have much in common. But both were small-business owners, and it turns out both had taken out something called a factor loan, which, as Bosch explains, “gets right up to the edge of loan-sharking but doesn’t cross the line.”
Soon the leads are taking Ballard and Bosch into unlikely and dangerous territory, with Ballard at odds with the police command structure at almost every step. She is also following a seemingly insignificant lead that will reveal the pattern of the Midnight Men — and lead to a breathtaking confrontation.
This is the fourth novel Connelly has written about Ballard, the third in which Bosch plays a significant role, and they just keep getting better. He’s one of the best in the business at writing about investigations and creating intense suspense, but the relationship between Ballard and Bosch — a professional friendship that grows out of two brilliant minds dedicated to the same difficult but important work — is the cherry on top.
The Dark Hours
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 400 pages, $29
Times Festival of Reading
Michael Connelly will appear in a live virtual conversation with Times book editor Colette Bancroft at 7 p.m. Nov. 9. The virtual book launch is free, but registration is required at festivalofreading.com.