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Literature / The Black Box

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The Black Box is a 2012 detective novel by Michael Connelly, featuring Harry Bosch. It marks twenty years since the first Harry Bosch novel, and includes several nods to the fact.

Bosch investigates a twenty-year-old cold case. Back in 1992, during the Rodney King riots, Bosch and Jerry Edgar were called out to investigate a dead woman found in an alley. The dead woman turned out to be Anneke Jespersen, a Danish journalist in the city to cover the riots who was found shot through the eye. Unfortunately, due to the orgy of violence and destruction in the city at that time, Bosch and Edgar had to leave the scene after only a few minutes, but not before Harry collected one shell casing from the scene.

Fast forward twenty years. The shell casing found from the Jespersen crime scene is matched with shells and bullets recovered in two other murders, one of which resulted in a gang member going to jail. Bosch, still working in the Open-Unsolved unit, takes the case. He finds a surprising new direction to the case, discovering that the Jespersen murder was not a random crime committed during the riots but a premeditated murder with a motive that dated back years.

Despite the title, does not contain an example of the trope Black Box.

This novel contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Nobody in the unit especially likes O'Toole. But after he pursues the bogus IA complaint, Bosch warns him that doing so will cost him any scrap of respect or loyalty the other Detectives are willing to reciprocate.
  • Aborted Arc: At the end of the last book, it was clear Irving was going to come after Harry and destroy him once and for all for his unwitting role in Kiz and the Chief's corruption entrapment. Irving was intending to use the Clayton Pell debacle and Bosch's role as his sword of vengeance. That threat ultimately comes to nothing, as Irving lost his re-election.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Discussed Trope, as Bosch can't fathom why Drummond doesn't simply kill him. Finally he figures out that Drummond wants to pin all the murders on Bosch and thus has to keep him alive until some time after everyone else is dead.
  • Call-Back: Bosch tells a funny story about when he was a beat cop. The old cop he was walking the beat with would write out traffic tickets for any motorist that heckled them. When Bosch objected that it wasn't in policy, the beat cop said, "It's in my policy!" The Call Back comes at the end, when Mendenhall from IAD sees that Bosch is going to try and shoot Drummond out of his helicopter, and this same exchange takes place.
  • Call-Forward: O'Toole tries to distract Bosch from the Jespersen case by dangling another case, a data hit that indicates the same person just happened to be a reporting witness in two unrelated murders, in 1999 and 2006. Bosch blows O'Toole off...but he does eventually investigate that case, in short story "A Fine Mist of Blood".
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several mentions of a wind turbine on the Cosgrove estate, which acts as a power generator. At the climax Drummond flies his helicopter right into the turbine.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • The National Guardsmen who met Bosch at the scene of the Jespersen murder in 1992 are the bad guys. Drummond, the guardsman who leads Bosch to the body, was the one who killed her.
    • Then there's Detective Mendenhall of Internal Affairs, whose appearances in the story seem to be the umpteenth "IA up Harry Bosch's ass" subplot. That is, until she shows up at the climax and saves Bosch.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Harry goes to visit the grave of the boy whose murder he investigated in City of Bones.
    • Harry commiserates with a fellow cop about former LAPD detective Frankie Sheehan, Bosch's old parter, agreeing "shame what happened to him." This is a reference to Sheehan's death in Angels Flight.
    • Bosch remembers how Chief Maycock and his old partner and friend Kiz Rider manipulated him in order to take down Irvin Irving. This is the plot of The Drop. He hasn't spoken to Kiz since.
  • Conversation Casualty: Drummond the criminal mastermind and Banks his Mook have tied up Bosch in the barn. Banks, calling Drummond by his old National Guard nickname of "Drummer", asks why Drummond wanted to hide Bosch's car. Drummond says, "Reggie, I told you not to call me that," and shoots him in the head. Bosch is shocked not only at the murder, but how Drummond didn't even look at Banks, instead keeping his eyes on Bosch the whole time.
  • Cowboy Cop: What does Bosch do, when he's told to slow down on the Jespersen investigation? He takes vacation so he can investigate the crime on his own. This nearly gets him killed.
  • Da Chief:
    • O'Toole, Bosch's new lieutenant, is a political animal who is only too eager to shut Bosch's investigation down.
    • The chief of police himself, Martin Maycock—the first LAPD chief in the Connelly canon to get a name—who tells Bosch directly to slow down the Jespersen investigation.
  • Distant Prologue: The opening scene is set in 1992 and recounts Bosch's rushed, cursory investigation into the Anneke Jespersen murder. Then the story jumps forward twenty years and picks up with Bosch in the Open-Unsolved unit going back to the Jespersen killing.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Black Box is both the box holding the information that cracks a case, and death.
  • Evil Is Petty: O'Toole after IA clears Harry of the bogus complaint he filed. In retaliation, O'Toole spitefully refuses to approve Harry's request to fly to Denmark to brief Henrik Jesperson on the resolution of his sister's unsolved murder (forcing Harry to do it over the phone).
  • Fun with Acronyms: Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums.
  • Internal Affairs: For once, not only does Bosch finally encounter an honorable Internal Affairs cop, said IA cop winds up bailing Bosch out of a jam.
  • Internal Homage: The title of The Black Box is a shout-out to the beginning of the Harry Bosch series, the first two novels of which were The Black Echo and The Black Ice. Connelly begins the novel with a thank-you to readers for keeping Harry alive for twenty years and the story begins twenty years in the past, with the initial call-out for the cold case Harry investigates in the story.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: This is discussed more than once in regards to the victim, a white lady reporter killed during the 1992 Rodney King riots. The LAPD does not want to give the impression that they are driven by the Syndrome. Management's resistance to Bosch pursuing the case is driven by Maycock's fear that the department will look bad if the only murder from the riots that they solve is that of a white woman.
  • Moe Greene Special: The victim is shot right through her right eye.
  • Pink Mist: "Bosch was hit by the blow-back of blood and brain matter a split second before Banks's body dropped to the hay-strewn floor next to him."
  • Rank Up: It's mentioned in passing that for her role in the Chief's conspiracy to oust Irving in the last book, Kiz has been promoted to Captain and been given her own division.
  • Real-Person Cameo: Real-life LAPD detective Rick Jackson is a co-worker of Bosch's and accompanies Bosch to his hearing with Internal Affairs.
  • The Reveal: In the epilogue, it's revealed that the IA complaint against Harry didn't actually originate with O'Toole; he merely seized on it to further his and the Chief's political goal of pausing Harry's investigation until after the Riots anniversary had passed. The complaint was actually made by none other than Shawn Stone both to protect himself from being tagged as a police snitch and to try and drive a wedge between his mother and her lover out of jealous spite. The Burning Room will subsequently confirm it succeeded, albeit not as planned.
  • Suicide by Cop: Drummond attempts this after he becomes paralyzed and to avoid ending up in prison. He taunts Harry with details about Anneke's murder...but alas for him, Bosch brings his fury under control and takes him alive.
  • Thanking the Viewer: The Black Box has an opening dedication thanking readers for keeping Harry Bosch alive for twenty years.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Downplayed, but Bosch and Kiz Rider's friendship is still in ruins following the the events of The Drop. Bosch hasn't spoken to her since, nor does he have any desire to.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Bosch is sorely tempted to execute a grievously injured Drummond after Drummond crashes his helicopter. But he doesn't.