A Tale of Two Cops – Book Review of Michael Connelly’s “The Black Ice”

Book Cover for Michael Connelly’s “The Black Ice”
Available on Amazon

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When I first discovered the Amazon series Bosch, I had only heard of the book series by Michael Connelly by reputation. After watching a few seasons, I decided to investigate the books the series was based on. The Black Ice, Connelly’s second novel featuring Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch, is a classic murder-mystery story, with a side order of Mexican drug cartels. The real meat of the story, though, is the mirroring of the lead character with the victim in the story.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read this review if you haven’t read the book.

As established in Connelly’s first novel, The Black Echo, Harry Bosch is a homicide detective in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division. The novel starts on Christmas night, with Bosch alone in his home listening to jazz records when he gets a call about a body found in a seedy motel off Hollywood Boulevard. The body in question is believed to belong to Calexico Moore, a Narcotics cop who was being investigated by Internal Affairs. Despite being the officer on-call for such an event, Bosch is pushed out in favor of Assistant Chief Irvin Irving’s Internal Affairs squad and Robbery-Homicide, the prestigious division Bosch once belonged to but was drummed out before the events of the first book.

Pushed out of the investigation into Moore’s death, Bosch is instead given a stack of open cases by his commanding officer due to the early retirement of a run-down cop named Lucius Porter, who fits the stereotype of the drunk police officer is just coasting by until he can retire. When Bosch decides to investigate the death of John Doe, he starts to unravel a potential connection between the dead man and Calexico Moore, one that leads Bosch south of the border into Mexico and squarely in the path of a cartel pushing Black Ice, an illegal street drug.

Connelly’s first novel was a great start, particularly given that it moved at a slower pace than most murder-mystery novels. The pacing of The Black Ice matches the first novel, with Connelly taking the reader through each methodical step as Bosch works the cases, tearing away at the webs of deceit until the truth is revealed, even if it is only to satisfy his own desire to solve the case. Bosch, as a character, is the definition of a “cowboy cop” but not in the same way you see on movies or television. Principled to the point of being rigid, Bosch doesn’t cut corners and doesn’t play politics. When Moore’s questionable past could shine a dark light on the LAPD, Bosch doesn’t back down, even if it means the department takes a black eye. There’s nobility in Bosch’s stubborn refusal to play the political game in the department, which confounds a political animal like Irvin Irving to no end.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about both Bosch and Calexico Moore. Both men are born out-of-wedlock and raised by single mothers. Each man finds themselves living in near poverty, with Bosch growing up in the foster system after his mother’s murder and Moore growing up in the barrios of Mexicali. The key difference is what happens when Bosch and Moore find their birth fathers. Bosch, despite having only met his birth father J. Michael Haller on his deathbed, found a way to forgive his father for not being part of his life and became a cop who was dedicated to justice. Moore, on the other hand, was ignored by his biological father, standing for hours outside his father’s compound until his father built a wall specifically so he could ignore Moore standing outside the property. Driven by bitterness, Moore went to his half-brother, a Mexican drug lord named Humberto Zorillo, to ask for money to buy the property after Moore’s father passed away. This one decision launched Moore into becoming a corrupt cop, working in Los Angeles to help his brother’s drug cartel operate on both sides of the border. Connelly spends ample time weaving back and forth into these insights, drawing parallels between the two characters in surprisingly poignant ways.

The sections of the novel where Bosch goes to Mexico to investigate Zorillo and his connection to the murders of Moore, the John Doe later identified as Fernal Gutierrez-Llosa, and Lucius Porter (which occurs about two-thirds of the way through the novel) are built by stacking the tension. Bosch is out of his jurisdiction and there’s no telling who he can and cannot trust once he’s in Mexico. The dangling threads of the novel come together during a DEA raid on Zorillo’s compound when Bosch realizes the body found at the beginning of the story did not belong to Calexico Moore. The confrontation at the end between Moore and Bosch is a study in contrasts, which I highlighted above. Moore is the mirror opposite of Bosch in every way but most especially in his willingness to use and kill to get away from facing the consequences of his misdeeds. While Bosch is prone to bending the rules, his moral code doesn’t allow him to outright break them. The final chapters of the novel bring a satisfying conclusion to the story, filling in the gaps for the reader if they haven’t already pieced the puzzle together.

Two books in to the series and I have to give Michael Connelly high praise for a consistent second showing. There’s the often-used term “sophomore slump”, indicating that a creator’s second effort isn’t as good as the first. That isn’t the case here. The Black Ice represents Connelly’s growing talent as a writer, weaving together a far more complex series of threads than in his first novel and doing so with an eye for satisfying details and pacing. I highly recommend picking up this novel and giving it and the rest of the Harry Bosch novels a look.

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