Postal Reading group
December 2018
Notes on the book Angels flight by Michael Connelly

Angels flight is the sixth in the series of Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. The basic plot is that Harry Bosch is asked to investigate the murder of the high profile lawyer, Howard Elias. The catch being that Elias specialised in prosecuting cases of police brutality; a politically sensitive case if ever there was one. Although I have read a fair number of detective novels, this is probably the first one I’ve read set in America.

As such I was interested to see how this compared with the range of crime fiction set in Britain, with which I am more familiar. In that regard there were fewer differences than I was expecting. Of course, the settings and cast of characters were different, but this is only to be expected. When considering the contrasts between Inspector Morse’s Oxford and Rebus’ Edinburgh, for example, suddenly this one doesn’t seem so different. Similarly, there are differences in police procedure, but there are similarities too, and the author has done a good job of explaining the procedure as the story develops. I did however notice a few unfamiliar terms and acronyms which caused confusion when I first encountered them, although none was sufficient to detract from the plot. Probably the biggest difference is the widespread gun ownership in America. Examples include the scene where the police car is shot at, Bosch’s recalling a previous case where they enter a house while the suspect is servicing their sub-machine gun, or the murder being carried out with a ‘popular’ brand of ammunition. You have to worry when brand loyalty exists even with armaments. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammo”!

Contrasts aside, this compares well with other ‘police procedural’ novels. Many of the familiar ingredients are there: a detective experiencing difficulties in their private life, uneasy relationships with their superiors, and the pressure to resolve the case quickly and in a politically expedient way. Bosch’s trying to give up smoking adds a nice human touch, and is entirely in keeping with the tradition that the best fictional detectives seem to have a problem with either alcohol, tobacco, or their weight! Presumably it helps to make the long and antisocial hours more bearable, while also making stable personal relationships more difficult.

All of this makes Angels Flight a perfectly adequate detective novel, but this is an increasingly popular genre and crowded market. In that regard I’m unconvinced that this one really stands out. The plot is well conceived and reasonably well executed (an important feature in any detective novel), but its not outstanding. The story is developed at a steady pace, giving the impression of the case being solved by investigation, rather than by hunches or a lucky break, although there is an element of this at the end. There is the fair share of ‘red herrings’, like the prostitute specialising in ‘domination’, and a final twist makes the ending something of a surprise.

This ending is, I feel, the weakest aspect of the book. After a well conducted investigation, the case appears to be solved. Even Bosch appears to accept this, while professing some surprise at the outcome. However, a chance observation and remark by the lawyer enables Bosch to find the true perpetrator, and clear his late friend and colleague. Unfortunately, by this time its too late: the police department have their sacrificial lamb, and the rioting mob has claimed their victim. Bosch never gets a chance to put the real truth across, and appears to accept this. Somehow you don’t expect such aquiescence to authority.

While I believe that the ending is one of the weaker aspects of the plot, it is nevertheless poignant given the references to race relations throughout the book. The murdered lawyer is black and is well connected in the community. The references to famous cases such as the Rodney King beating, and the O.J. Simpson trial show that even now very little has changed, and that inter-racial tension remains just below the surface ready to erupt given the right trigger. In that regard, Bosch seems little different to most of his colleagues. On the positive side, he did investigate the case fairly and is not actively racist, but still sees things from the same perspective as his colleagues. No-one liked Howard Elias, they were all suspicious of Carla, and Bosch remained reluctant to believe anything bad of Frank. In the end this was partly justified, although we should remember that Frank was involved in the maltreatment of a suspect.

In summary, I thought this was a good book, and Bosch seems a pretty believeable character with a few very human touches. Perhaps not a book to really like, after all, even Bosch “could not be surprised anymore by the horrors people inflicted on each other”, but a well written police procedural nevertheless. However, the ending wasn’t entirely satisfactory, and I’m unconvinced that the book really stands out in what is admittedly a very popular genre.

Comments by Nicholas Cutler