Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Latest

Former crime reporter Michael Connelly has toyed with some other characters as leads in his novels, although he continues to rely on detective Harry Bosch and lawyer Mickey Haller as his mainstays. With 2017's The Late Show, he brings Hollywood Division night shift detective Renée Ballard onto the stage.

Ballard is Connelly's first female main POV protagonist since Void Moon's Cassie Black. She's working "the Late Show," the nighttime shift that's just one step up from crosswalk duty, because she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor and was hung out to dry by her fellow officers concerned more with their own careers than the truth. Late Show detectives may make the first contact with a crime victim, but their cases are almost always handed off to daytime officers who close them and make the arrests.

But not unlike Harry Bosch, Ballard stays in the harness because she wants to solve crimes and speak for those who can't speak for themselves. Occasionally she can take a case to the finish and bring that closure herself. On the night we meet her, she manages to become involved in three such cases and finish them out -- a credit-card theft, the brutal beating of a transvestite prostitute and a multiple-victim murder at a nightclub. To work them, she'll have to cross paths with her former co-workers and the supervisor who tried to assault her, putting her career on the line when she believes they won't do the job right. And she might find herself the target of more than harassment if her suspicions are right.

Connelly seems as though he plans a full trip with Ballard, unwrapping her character only gradually and leaving several layers to go even by the end of the novel. At this point, she's interesting and appealing enough to hope he continues. Connelly is probably at his best when telling the tales of tarnished knights in pursuit of justice, and it's worth it to see where Renée Ballard will plant her banner and draw her sword next.
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After many years dodging the responsibility, Gabriel Allon has finally taken up the mantle of the director of Israel's intelligence service in 2017's House of Spies. His enemy Saladin, the Iraqi terrorist pursued in The Black Widow, is in hiding, his network supposedly a shambles. But Gabriel regard's Saladin's survival as a failure and fears the mastermind is only recuperating and rebuilding his organization.

Daring and deadly attacks in London prove him right, and Gabriel is ready to agree when his friends at British intelligence ask for his help in bringing Saladin to bay. As the director, he's not really supposed to get his hands dirty in the operational theater, but Gabriel will disregard precedent to get Saladin. His avenue will be a French jet setter, Jean-Luc Martel, suspected of being a drug supplier.

Allon chronicler Daniel Silva uses Gabriel's new position to introduce a couple of extra wrinkles into his story, but House of Spies is mostly tried-and-true riffs on the concept behind Mission: Impossible. Gabriel's team works out an elaborate con to get a handle on Martel and squeeze him for his drug contacts, which they believe will get them to Saladin. Silva hasn't lost any punch or gotten flabby in this, his 17th Allon novel, but he is treading some familiar paths. Maybe giving Gabriel some time in his new role will offer Silva some chances to branch out and try new ideas; it would be a welcome change to avoid the possibility of getting into a rut.
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The lazy second half of Ben Coes' 2016 Dewey Andreas adventure First Strike put the author in a deep hole. Its repetitive and clichéd brutality was easily the worst set of chapters he's put into print and could make a reader wonder if Dewey had any life left.

For 2017's Trap the Devil, Coes offers a solid if unspectacular yes, putting Dewey on the trail -- and in the sights -- of a shadowy conspiracy within our own government instead of another round with international terrorists. On a limited duty assignment offering extra security for the U.S. Secretary of State, Dewey finds himself implicated in the secretary's assassination and on the run from French security forces. Intermittent contact with allies at the CIA and other colleagues gives him hints of the shadowy cabal and its plans, but will it be too late to thwart their deadly scheme?

Coes has done best with Dewey operating solo, usually in hiding and in almost as much danger from his own side as his enemies. He spends a large part of Devil working that angle, with good results. An extended sequence on a train, with at least three different groups of heavily armed fighters looking to kill each other, delivers some high-tension action and solid suspense. Coes is good at navigating the line between good tough guy masculine prose and he-man overkill, and he continues to do so here.

Some implausibilities in the plot and in more than one of Dewey's fantastic feats bring a little more eye roll than is good for even an espionage thriller novel, but Devil remains a substantial improvement on the one-star outing of First Strike and rescues the series from the "used to read him" pile.

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