Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 9 November 2021)
Series: Ballard & Bosch – Book Three
Length: 391 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The master of crime fiction, bestselling author Michael Connelly, returns with another outstanding Ballard and Bosch novel, The Dark Hours, which sets his iconic protagonists on another intense and captivating case.
Connelly is one of those authors who needs very little introduction, having written an amazing number of crime fiction novels throughout his exceptional career. I have really been getting into Connelly’s work lately, especially after reading his 2020 releases, Fair Warning and The Law of Everything. However, my favourite Connelly novels have probably been the Ballard and Bosch sub-series, which follows the team of two of Connelly’s great protagonists. This includes Renée Ballard, who debuted as the lead character of The Late Show, and Harry Bosch, Connelly’s long-running protagonist who has appeared in nearly every one of Connelly’s books since The Black Echo. These two protagonists first teamed up in Dark Sacred Night in 2018, and then again in The Night Fire, one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019. I have deeply enjoyed these two characters, and I was very excited when I saw that Connelly was featuring them again in his latest novel, The Dark Hours, which was one of my most anticipated releases for 2021. The Dark Hours is the 36th overall novel in Connelly’s overarching crime fiction universe and proved to be another exciting and clever read.
As the clock ticks down the last seconds of 2020, the citizens of Los Angeles celebrate New Year’s Eve in their typical chaotic way, with hundreds of celebrators firing guns up into the air, with a rain of bullets coming down shortly after. Sheltering under a bridge, LAPD detective Renée Ballard is staking out the nearby neighbourhood in hopes of catching a team of rapists terrorising women during the holidays. However, she instead finds herself called to the scene of a party where an auto shop owner has been fatally hit in the head with a bullet.
Initially assuming that the death was an accident brought on by the lateral bullets fired in celebration, Ballard soon discovers that the shooting occurred at point-blank range, indicating that someone used the revels to disguise their up-close murder. Starting her investigation, Ballard soon discovers that the same gun was used in an unsolved murder case which had been investigated by her friend and mentor, retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch.
Working with Bosch, Ballard soon finds herself on the trail of a dangerous killer who may have killed many times before and is at the centre of a deadly conspiracy. Determined to catch this killer before the case is taken away from her, Ballard is willing to break any rule to catch her suspect, no matter the danger to herself or her career. At the same time, Ballard becomes obsessed with catching the team of rapists destroying lives in her city, but finds herself fighting against a demoralised and uncaring police department, more concerned with maintaining their image than police work. Can Ballard and Bosch solve these latest crimes before it is too late, or will the predators they stalk land another fatal strike?
This was another incredible book from Connelly that contains a clever and captivating murder mystery that I deeply enjoyed. The Dark Hours has a fantastic story to it, that not only takes the reader on an intense and particularly dark couple of cases but which also explores the state of policing in 2021. A brilliant and powerful read, this was an excellent Connelly novel that gets a full five-star rating from me.
Connelly came up with an exceptional crime fiction narrative for The Dark Hours, which I powered through in a few days. This latest story, told exclusively from the perspective of Ballard, follows the character as she investigates several horrific crimes. There are two central cases in this book; the first involves a murder of a mechanic, which sees Ballard connect with her old friend Harry Bosch, who previously worked a connected cold case; and the other is a series of rapes throughout LA, made distinctive by the presences of a two-man team. These two cases are both pretty compelling and unique in their own way, with Ballard getting quite obsessed with both of them. The murder case has several outlying threads that see Ballard and Bosch chase down gang connections, dirty cops, and a wide-ranging conspiracy of dentists, all of which results in a tight and powerful investigation story with some substantial dangers to Ballard. The rape case is a dark and disturbing counterpart to this murder, and Connelly ensures that the full horror of this particular type of crime is on full display. Both of these cases come together extremely well as the story progresses, and I really appreciated how some of the emotions and consequences stirred up in one case led to the characters doing some rash and dangerous things in the other. Throw in some major professional drama around Ballard, and you have an intense and powerful narrative that really sticks in the mind. I loved some of the cool and dark twists associated with these intriguing storylines, and Connelly certainly has the ability to create some major and memorable moments. The Dark Hours also does a good job of continuing some of the storylines from the previous novels, particularly around Ballard’s many issues as a member of the LAPD, and it sets up some future plot points that will no doubt make for an awesome novel or two in the years to come.
One of the most interesting things about The Dark Hours is Connelly’s compelling and in-depth examination of the LAPD in early 2021, following COVID and the protests of 2020. Connelly paints a detailed and intriguing picture of the LAPD as a dispirited and defunded organisation which has withdrawn from proactive police work and is instead more concerned with avoiding bad publicity and controversy. The police characters featured within this novel are notably unmotivated and aggrieved, with many more concerned with their own lives than protecting people. This is a rather grim but seemingly realistic view of the LAPD, and I really appreciated the fact that Connelly attempted to explore what life as a police officer is like in these controversial times. The author makes sure to try and show both sides of the debate around policing, made easier by his protagonist’s status as LAPD outsiders, and it was fascinating and moving to see the police perspective. The apathy of the LAPD comes into play in the story in multiple ways, and it was an exceptional and memorable inclusion to The Dark Hours. In addition, Connelly spends a lot of time exploring early 2021 Los Angeles, with multiple references to masks, vaccines, unemployment and all the other aspects of COVID-19 that we have come to know and love. While most people are probably quite sick (ha!) about seeing all the COVID stuff wherever you go, even into book-land, those authors wishing to display modern life need to include it, and I felt that Connelly did a great job showing it from an LA perspective. Throw in some commentary on other key events of early 2021, and The Dark Hours turns into quite a contemporary novel with some extremely intriguing opinions and insights.
Another aspect of The Dark Hours that I enjoyed was the fantastic use of characters featured within it. In particular, it was rather interesting to see which protagonists got the most focus throughout the novel. When I first started reading this novel, I assumed that, like the previous Ballard and Bosch books, the story would be a split perspective narrative featuring the two main characters. Instead, the entire story ended up being told exclusively from Ballard’s point-of-view, with Bosch featured as a supporting character. While some long-term Bosch fans might feel a little let down, I personally did not mind this as Ballard has been a really fascinating and relatable protagonist in her last few novels. Ballard has always been an outcast in the LAPD, following her attempt to report her previous supervisor for sexual harassment, and this sense of being an outsider has only intensified throughout her more recent novels. This all comes to a boil in The Dark Hours, as Ballard is continually stymied by the new attitude of the LAPD, and is constantly undermined by ineffective, dispirited and politically minded colleagues and superiors. This eventually forces her to adopt a more Bosch-like mentality and she goes outside the lines multiple times to try and bring her culprits to justice. I rather liked this more reckless side of Ballard, and it ends up resulting in some major changes to her personality and potential law enforcement future. It was also very fascinating to see Ballard’s opinions on the recent issues affecting policing, and even she finds herself quite angry with some of the accusations levelled against her and the LAPD, despite harbouring her own negative opinions. Throw in an interesting new relationship and a fun new puppy friend, and this ended up being a particularly good Ballard story. I look forward to seeing more of Ballard in the future, and I really think that Connelly is setting her up as his primary police character for the future.
While most of the focus is on Ballard, Bosch still has a significant role in The Dark Hours, serving as the main supporting character and Ballard’s unofficial partner. While it was a little odd not to see Bosch’s perspective on the two main investigations, he was a great wingman to the protagonist and I liked how Connelly was able to work Bosch’s veteran mindset into Ballard’s way of thinking. It was fun to see him serve the joint role of being Ballard’s voice of reason while also subtly encouraging her to do some more rebellious moves. I really enjoyed seeing more of Bosch in the book, and it will be interesting to see what Connelly does with him in the future. Considering that Bosch is currently a much older, out-of-work detective currently battling leukaemia, you have to imagine that Connelly is planning to retire him permanently some point soon, and I am curious to see how or when that happens, no doubt occurring in heartbreaking fashion.
Overall, The Dark Hours is another exceptional novel from Michael Connelly, who continues to showcase why he is one of the best and most consistent authors of crime fiction in the world today. This latest novel serves as an excellent continuation of the Ballard and Bosch subseries, and it is always so much fun to travel back into Connelly’s expanded and intriguing crime fiction universe. The Dark Hours has an outstanding and compelling narrative that follows the authors dogged protagonist as she investigates several major and disturbing crimes. I was pretty much hooked the moment I picked this book up and it is a must-read for all crime fiction fans.