Crime novelist Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch crime series, offers a new character with Los Angeles Police Detective Renee Ballard in his latest and 30th novel “The Late Show.”
Consigned to the midnight shift in Hollywood — called the “late show” by the cops — as an unofficial punishment after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisor, Lt. Robert Olivas, Detective Ballard remains a sharp, feisty and dedicated investigator, but she’s stuck performing limited, unsatisfactory work for a once up-and-coming detective and a go-getter who likes to see things through.
As the novel begins the 32-year-old detective deals with a couple of cases that she liked to, needed to, see through to completion and insure that justice is done. But the first problem is her partner on the midnight shift, Detective Jenkins, who is happy with his night job, even volunteered for it, as he had a sick wife at home and he wanted to be home when she woke up in the morning.
“It was their main point of contention in their partnership. They worked the midnight shift, the late show, moving from case to case, called to any scene where a detective was needed to take initial reports or sign off on suicides. But they kept no cases,” Mr. Connelly writes. “They wrote up the initial reports and turned the cases over to the appropriate investigative units in the morning. Robbery, sexual assault, burglary, auto theft, and so on down the line. Sometimes Ballard wanted to work a case from beginning to end. But that wasn’t the job and Jenkins was never inclined to stray one inch from its definition.”
One night she’s called out on two different crimes that she refused to part with, despite her partner and LAPD policy. The crimes involved the vicious beating of a “dragon,” which is what LAPD Vice called all drag queens, cross-dressers and transgenders. Ramona Ramone, whose real name was Ramon Gutierrez, was a prostitute who was nearly beaten to death with brass knuckles.
The second case involved the peripheral murder of Cynthia Haddel, a nightclub waitress shot during the murder of three men with criminal backgrounds who had been sitting at a table with the shooter. While the LAPD elite Robbery-Homicide Division (RHD) team, headed by Lt. Olivas, investigated the three murders, plus the murder of the club bouncer, Detective Ballard took an active interest in the murdered waitress.
Detective Ballard, a Hawaiian and former surfer, normally went paddle boarding in the ocean after her shift to relax and often slept on the beach with her mixed breed-rescue dog, but she pursued the two cases on her own time during the day as well as on the midnight shift, dodging interference from other cops and chasing the criminals she called “Big Evil.”
Like his Bosch crime novels, the Renee Ballard story is a realistic and largely accurate portrayal of cops working crime, and crime working cops. The novel reminds me somewhat of former LAPD Sgt. Joseph Wambaugh’s classic cop novels.
After a shooting, Detective Ballard is sent to a doctor to talk about it. The doctor notes that she has seen careers cut short due to the “darkness.”
“The darkness?” Detective Ballard said. “I work the late show. There is nothing but —”
“I’m talking about the darkness within. You have a job, Detective, that takes you into the bleakest side of the human soul. Into the darkness of people like Trent. To me it’s like the laws of physics — for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. If you go into the darkness, the darkness goes into you. You have to decide what to do with it. How to keep yourself safe from it. How to keep it from hollowing you out.”
Michael Connelly stated in an interview on his website that Renee Ballard was inspired by LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts, who now works homicide but used to work the late show at Hollywood Station. He said he’s known her for years and she has helped him with his Bosch books and is now a consultant to the Bosch TV series on Amazon.
“My one-word take on Detective Roberts is that she’s fierce,” Mr. Connelly said in the interview. “I think fierce means intense, ferocious and it fits better for a woman trying to operate and do good and important work in a male-dominated profession. It is not fair but Ballard has to be better at her job than her male counterparts in order to earn respect and she has to be fierce to get there.”
“The Late Show” is a well-written, fast-paced, compelling and interesting crime thriller. I miss Harry Bosch, but I enjoyed meeting Renee Ballard.
• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
• • •
THE LATE SHOW
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, $28, 405 pages