The Dark Hours (Harry Bosch #23, Renée Ballard #4), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

There’s nothing like a great novel by Michael Connelly to remind me of the power of a stellar police procedural. Transitioning from his stalwart protagonist, Harry Bosch, to a new and gritty detective, Renée Ballard, Connelly shows that police investigations come in all shapes and sizes. LAPD Detective Renée Ballard is working the New Year’s shift, hoping to catch a pair of serial rapists known as the Midnight Men. When a murder pulls her in another direction, Detective Ballard begins her investigation. It would seem some forensics ties the murder to an old case, one investigated by retired Detective Harry Bosch. Ballard and Bosch work together on both cases, peeling back deceptions and truths to find what really happened. Willing to risk it all, Ballard forges ahead to get the cases solved, mentored by Bosch, who still revels in being considered a pariah within the LAPD. Connelly dazzles again and kept me reading late into the night.

LAPD Detective Renée Ballard is used to seeing a great deal on her overnight shift, but nothing prepares her for the intense night that New Year’s Eve brings. While she is counting down the minutes until her shift ends, she’s called to the scene of a street party, where one man has been fatally shot, but no one seems to be talking. What a way to end one year and begin another!

If that were not enough, Ballard has been keeping an eye open for an attack by the Midnight Men, a pair of rapists who have been striking around each holiday. Ballard is not sure what to make of it all, but she’s keen to get some answers, when time permits. It is sure to be an exciting and exhausting beginning to January, but what does Ballard have to lose?

Some early sleuthing and forensics helps Ballard determine that the shooting victim could not have died from an errant bullet that fell from above, but rather a targeted attack that was meant to rile up the community. She traces the bullet back to a gun that was used in another unsolved murder years before. That case, though it remains cold, was investigated by retired Detective Harry Bosch, a friend of Ballard’s but surely not of the LAPD.

Working once again with the gritty and no-nonsense detective, Ballard and Bosch begin their own investigation, pushing the limits in order to put the pieces together. When they seek a little distraction, they discuss and work the Midnight Men case, which has some interesting facts piling up and potential pre-planning. Could the rape victims be anything but random attacks?

Ballard finds herself picking up more than simply investigation tips from Bosch, as she sees her time in the LAPD coming to a close. She has the grit and determination to bring down two sets of criminals, but it may require a slight bending of the rules to do it. Could Ballard be headed down the same path as her mentor? If so, does she really care all that much? Another classic police procedural that will leave readers begging Connelly for more and hoping that this duo is back once again soon.

I have long admired Michael Connelly for his work on this series, which keeps getting better with more twists than a soft pretzel. While Harry Bosch was a sensational protagonist, his stepping side for Renée Ballard has not lessened the impact of the novels, nor does it make me want to read them any less. There is a great connection between Bosch and Ballard, without causing either one of them to force the other to stand in the shadows. The stories are still as gritty as ever and the cases are strong with just enough humour to cut through some of the tension. Connelly had not lost his knack.

Renée Ballard has grown on me over the past few novels, having to fill shoes that are almost impossible to do effectively. She’s got a backstory, though Connelly has left this on the sidelines for the most part. Rather, there is her constant growth and development that comes to pass throughout the novel, as Ballard uses her mentor, Harry Bosch, to hone her skills and become a better cop, if not a more determined person. She has what it takes to make a difference and knows what she needs to do, even if that means crossing the line on occasion as well.

I am never disappointed when it comes to a Michael Connelly novel, as I can be assured of a strong story, great character interactions, and wonderful banter throughout. Connelly has developed these skills over a long period, with a narrative that is both dark and easy to follow, which builds throughout the process and uses twists to keep the reader guessing. The pace allows readers to become ensconced in all that is taking place around them, while finding something intriguing about the characters who set things up effectively for all to see. Plot lines are not always linear, which helps keep the story feeling fresh and some sense of wonder throughout. While I know Bosch was somewhat sidelined a few novels ago, his presence remains strong as Ballard utilises him for some of her own needs and keeps things fresh throughout. There’s something to be said for this duo and I can only hope Connelly has at least a few more novels in him where they can work together, even if that means pushing the LAPD to the side.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for keeping the Bosch spirit alive, while allowing Renée Ballard to rise up and make a name for herself as well.

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