As police procedural authors go, it’s hard to think of a more reliable or interesting one than Michael Connelly, who has been writing about Harry Bosch for more than twenty years at this point. Connelly’s novels are fascinating not just as mystery stories, but as snapshots of time – they’re uniquely contemporary, reflecting concerns of the time, and letting Bosch and the other characters age in “real time”, more or less. His short stories, by definition, aren’t as complex, and feel a bit less linked to their time and place; that doesn’t, however, make them less engaging to read, just somewhat less rich.
Connelly’s Angle of Investigation, then, is interesting partially just for how its three stories ran the gamut of possibilities for Connelly’s Bosch stories, in all sorts of ways – focus, approach, scale, and even quality. For instance, one story, “Christmas Even,” walks us through the mechanics of a murder investigation; the second, “Father’s Day,” mainly revolves around Bosch’s skills in the interrogation room; the third, the title story, follows Bosch using his years of experience to unravel a cold case with only one real lead. It all serves as a nice triptych of Bosch’s skills, and a sort of mosaic that presents his strengths. More than that, each gets into a different aspect of Bosch’s life: “Christmas Even” explores his isolation and love of jazz, “Father’s Day” gets into his relationship with his daughter (a bit), and “Angle of Investigation” gets into his history on the police force.
It’s the quality of each story, though, that tells you the most about them. “Christmas Even” is far and away the best of the three: it features the most compelling case, the most involved narrative, the best emotional beats for Bosch, and the most satisfying narrative that ties it all together. “Father’s Day” isn’t bad at all, though; the interrogation scene is riveting work, and a testament to Connelly’s gift for listening as cops work their magic to get a confession that they know is coming – it’s just that the Bosch emotional beats aren’t as strong. As for “Angle of Investigation,” it’s…fine, I suppose, as long as you can get past the least interesting story by far and a narrative that feels thrown together and barely holds up. There’s a great hook there, with Bosch being asked to revisit the first dead body he ever found on the force, but the story we get is weak, and far from Connelly’s usual careful work. Nonetheless, it’s a collection well worth reading, especially for fans; you have two really great ones, and even “Angle of Investigation” is intriguing for its window into a young Harry Bosch, fresh on the beat. Rating: ****
What’s more interesting, if not quite as successful, is watching Connelly try on a genre he’s never messed with before: a ghost story. “The Safe Man” still features a lot of Connelly’s trademarks: great research, a lived-in character that exhibits professionalism while still managing to be a person, and an intriguing story. The hook here is simple: Brian Halloway is an expert in safes, and he’s been called in to open and disassemble a safe that a writer has found under his floorboards. But the safe doesn’t look like anything Halloway has ever seen before, and when he posts about it to a message board, he starts hearing some disturbing rumors. And things escalate from there, as Halloway ends up getting a visit from some very persistent law enforcement agents…
It’s always a risk for an author to take on a new genre, and while “The Safe Man” doesn’t wholly work, it’s not a bad effort. It helps that Connelly approaches the story like he approaches all of his work: with research, information, and craft, all of which make the world of safes every bit as interesting as any murder investigation he could craft. And even in this short story, he shows off his usual gift for character work, quickly crafting a writer character whose arrogance is a thing to behold. The problem, really, is just the “ghost story” aspect, which doesn’t really work that well; Connelly doesn’t do a great job of hiding his ghost from the reader, and while Connelly’s ultimate revelation about his ghost is an interesting one, it doesn’t feel like enough to hang a story on. “The Safe Man” is a quick read, and it moves well; it just doesn’t have any enough meat or substance to really stick with you. Rating: *** ½