Descendants of Philip Marlowe

In The Dark Hours, Michael Connelly treats class as an important part of detective work.

private eye
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Michael Connelly has long acknowledged that Raymond Chandler was one of his major inspirations for becoming a crime fiction writer. While Connelly was a student at the University of Florida, he saw Robert Altman’s film The Long Goodbye, which led him to Chandler’s books, and the rest is bestseller history.

The Dark Hours, like all the books in Connelly’s Harry Bosch series and in the newer series that teams Bosch with Renée Ballard, reflects Chandler’s continued influence in two elements: the protagonists and the setting.

Bosch and Ballard are both modeled on Chandler’s fictional detective Philip Marlowe in essential ways. They don’t crack wise as often as he does, and for most of their careers, they’ve carried a badge. But, like Marlowe, they operate by their own codes; they recognize the rules of the justice system but break them when their personal sense of morality requires it and bear the consequences. And for both of them, as for Marlowe, that code has to do with class.

Charles Dickens and Henry James were among Chandler’s favorite novelists, and from them he adopted the idea that the novel could be a study of class and the many things that define it: wealth, power, race, gender, and more.

Marlowe’s outsider status and line of work make him a keen observer of class, and the same is true of Bosch and Ballard. Bosch’s personal mantra, “Everybody counts or nobody counts,” is also an ironic commentary on the fact that the justice system doesn’t work that way—how much justice someone gets, or doesn’t, often hinges on class.

From the opening chapters of The Dark Hours, set on New Year’s Eve, Ballard demonstrates the same personal code. She answers a call about a fatal shooting that at first looks like an accidental result of celebratory gunfire. The victim is Latino, the owner of a small blue-collar business and a former gang member.

When it’s established that he was murdered, other cops shrug off his death as fallout from an old gang beef. But Ballard doesn’t think it’s that simple, especially when ballistics link it to an unsolved murder years ago of another small-business owner, a rapper who’d opened his own recording studio. The detective on that cold case was the now-retired Bosch, and the two of them follow a trail that upends stereotypical notions of what class of people commit crimes and who their victims are.

The setting shared by Chandler and Connelly is, of course, Los Angeles, and for both writers, the city is a living map of class and its inequities. Another of Bosch’s mantras, which hangs above his desk in the TV series based on the books, is “Get off your ass and go knock on doors.”

Ballard shares that creed, and as a result, she knows the city’s neighborhoods in granular detail. That becomes essential to the other case she pursues in The Dark Hours: hunting a pair of rapists dubbed the Midnight Men.

The three rapes to which the two men have been connected have common elements: the women were attacked as they slept, blindfolded and assaulted for hours; there were no signs of forced entry into their homes or traces of DNA; and the rapists struck on holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve.

As she investigates the third case, though, Ballard recognizes a subtle but important difference in the neighborhood the victim lives in. The first two women lived on the flats, in neighborhoods with grid streets and lots of access points. The cops’ thinking is that the victims were random opportunities, rather than specific targets.

Not the New Year’s Eve victim. As Ballard tells the other detectives she’s working with, “The new case is up in the hills.… The Dell. And it’s not the kind of neighborhood you walk into to peep in windows and find a victim.” Curving streets, limited access—it’s not a wealthy neighborhood, but it suggests a different motive than opportunism.

As Ballard and Bosch will discover, it’s an utterly shocking motive, beyond even the terrible misogyny that causes any rape. And they solve the case because they understand how class and power work.•

Join us on April 21 at 5 p.m., when Connelly will appear in conversation with CBC host John Freeman and a special guest to discuss The Dark Hours. Be sure to visit the Alta Clubhouse to discuss the book with your fellow California Book Club members. Register for the event here.

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