Monday, November 4, 2013

Harry Bosch Searches for the Black Box

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

During the course of the L.A. riots in 1992, Harry Bosch, then a young detective, was the first investigator on the scene of the murder of Anneke Jespersen. Jespersen, an attractive photo-journalist from Denmark, was found executed in a dark ally in the middle of the riot zone by national guardsmen who were attempting to provide crowd control. But at the height of the rioting, Harry had no opportunity to do anything more than make a cursory examination of the scene before he was ordered away to another homicide. In the wake of the riots, the Jespersen killing was assigned to a special task force and the case was never solved.

This is one of those cases that has always haunted Harry and now, twenty years later, the same gun that killed the young journalist is used in another murder. Bosch, who is now assigned to the department's Open-and-Unsolved Unit, jumps at the chance to reopen the Jespersen case and finally provide a very belated justice for the victim.

It will not be easy. The chain of evidence is almost hopelessly murky and would frustrate any detective less tenacious than Bosch. In addition to confronting an almost impossible case, Harry is also soon up against department bureaucrats who are interested only in posting statistics that make them look good, who do not share Harry's sense of the Mission of a homicide detective, and who for their own nefarious reasons, would rather this particular case not be solved.

Bosh will not be deterred. He makes an end run around his supervisors and doggedly pursues the case as he believes he should. He's desperately searching for the "Black Box," which will provide the solution to the case, but in the end, the term will become much more than a metaphor as Harry uncovers a particularly dark and disturbing series of crimes.

As he investigates the case, Harry continues to grapple with the complex challenges involved in raising a teenage daughter by himself. He also has a new woman in his life and this relationship is difficult as well, but watching him juggle all of these responsibilities is a treat, as always. All in all, this is an excellent entry in one of the best crime series in the history of the genre. Twenty-five years after first introducing Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly just continues to keep getting better and better.

Columbus, Just Look At The Mess You Made!

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1493 is all over the place...and that's a good thing.

Charles C. Mann's follow up to his spectacular 1491 look at the pre-Columbian Americas is quite an admirable undertaking. Here he looks at the consequences of Columbus's voyages to the Americas. For better and/or for worse they had far reaching affects, especially biologically.

Mann's premise seems to state that Columbus was not a morally good man, but he should be celebrated as bringing about the world's biological homogenization. Though this is no murder mystery, I'm going to refrain from giving examples, because that would spoil the fun of reading 1493.

Hmmm...well, that doesn't give me much else to talk about.

Before Columbus Came To Town

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was like a coloring book of pre-Pilgrim North America for me in that it filled in a lot of unanswered questions and brilliantly illuminated some areas of my knowledge that were mere outlines. It stays within the lines and makes my early attempts at coloring in the past look like spidery, seizure-induced scrawlings.

Being originally from New England, I'm well aware that there were inhabitants here long before the Europeans arrived. Early on in school we were inundated with stories of Samoset and Squanto, the first Native Americans to make contact with the Plymouth Colony pilgrims, and how in 1621 they strolled into the transplanted Englishmen's village and a big party broke out, thus began the tradition of Thanksgiving. I was (mis)taught in a Massachusetts classroom where heritage and history are king, so much was made of this. We were led to believe the story by elementary schoolteachers who probably wholeheartedly believed it themselves. What about the Virginia Colony of 1607 and their contact with the native inhabitants? It failed, so sweep it under the rug. Something tells me this version of America's founding by Europeans was not the one being taught in Virginia at the time...

Never was explained how the two natives could speak English (from Englishmen fishing off of the Maine coast and, in Squanto's case, from abduction and internment for seven years in England) or anything that happened in the Americas prior to the pilgrims landing. Oh sure there was talk of Incas and Mayans and their all important maize. But the extent, the sheer size of the native tribes, clans, and cosmopolitan societies of the Americas, north and south, and how Europe brought it all down upon their heads, none of this was discussed. Why? Because even during the late 1970s and early 80s when the movement to turn the Native Americans into mystical caretakers of Mother Earth, there was still a prejudicial sense of 'white is right' prevalent, at least in the neighborhood I grew up in. The other reason is a plain lack of knowledge. My simple teachers simply did not know. They can't wholly be blamed. The information wasn't readily available or flat-out wasn't available. School books were traditional and outdated. The grey-area material was swept under the rug. Now there is less grey-area material - advances in technology and archaeological practices have greatly advanced our knowledge of the past in just a few short decades - but there's still plenty of unknown patches of time in the western hemisphere. In 1491 Mann does not shy away from them.

Having said that, it should be noted that this is not just about North America. No, in fact more time is spent on everything below it. Through discovered texts and deciphered inscriptions there's just more known about Mesoamerica than the other areas, so yes, there are pages upon pages about those Incas and Mayans.

In general what I love about 1491 is that it doesn't take the Indians' side or the Europeans'. It doesn't try to cast a glowing angelic light upon the native inhabitants to transform them into woodland spirits whose only concern was the preservation of the trees and the birds, etc blah blah blah (Earth Day is quaint and misguided, but I digress...), nor does Mann attempt to attack or defend the actions of the Europeans. All is more of a statement of fact or, if lacking concrete evidence, a statement of possibility based on sound theory.

Sure, this distills oceans of scholarly study down to a more manageable duck pond, but it never tries to pretend it is doing otherwise. Mann is no pretender to vaunted erudition. He's a journalist who's done some research. He's a guy who realized his own grade school education was lacking, and when he found out the moldy stuff he was taught way back when was still being taught to his son he decided to do something about it. I'm glad for it.

View all my reviews