BOSCH IN A BAD WAY
The brooding LA detective is a man on the edge, adding to the tension in this exceptional third season
This fine television cop drama — based on Los Angeles crime writer Michael Connelly’s bestselling series of novels featuring the nighthawk and loner detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch — returned last week and already has become must-see TV again, with the first two episodes available on SBS’s exemplary On Demand streaming service.
While this third season picks up on many of the events that began 20 episodes ago, it is so well engineered by its formidable creative team that it is like a ferocious fresh start for anyone coming to it for the first time. In each 10-part season — 60 hours were originally envisaged by Connelly when he eventually let go the rights to more than 22 novels for the series that began in 1992 with the legendary The Black Echo — Bosch takes on multiple overlapping cases adapted from the various novels, giving the series an exceptional, epic feel.
Connelly, a former reporter working big-city crime beats, developed the series with writerproducer Eric Overmyer, who had worked on David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire and Treme, together bringing the same level of gravity and cinematic complexity to the new series.
The novels have sold more than 58 million copies and been translated into 39 languages. The series is directed in an atmospheric LA noir style and, happily for fans, is faithful to the books — Connelly is a writer on the show and one of its executive producers — and not just in the way it presents the procedural narrative, the unexpected generic twists, the moves and countermoves of dropped clues and sudden insights.
The overall narrative is less closed than most cop procedurals, juggling many different storylines and hardly at any point validating the existing social order. The mythical tidiness of a job well done is here transformed into the more realistic messiness of cases that are never solved; and moral certainty fades in the light of Bosch’s complications. Truth is too often a commodity of corruption and no one’s authority can be trusted in Bosch’s world.
“Harry’s a grinder, and there’s something noble about that,” says Connelly. Bosch is constantly battling the hierarchy, has attacked commanding officers and has been suspended indefinitely at times pending psychiatric evaluation.
He also has a reputation, not entirely unearned, for planting evidence and interfering with crime scenes, a plot point underpinning much of the new season. (When asked by someone on the show how he would encapsul- ate the character of Harry Bosch, he printed Tshirts for the crew that said: “God help his tormentors”.)
The tropes and literary conventions may be familiar by now — Connelly has been around for a long time — but he always rises above them. In fact, taking his conventions from LA crime greats Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Florida’s John D. MacDonald, author of the influential Travis McGee series, he reimagined many of them.
The character was named, of course, after the 15th-century Dutch artist whose fantastic paintings of the fallen in hell serve as a metaphor for the criminal cesspit that is Los Angeles for his creator. “I’ve always thought of LA as the modern version of The Garden of Earthly Delights,” he says. “So much of it is physically beautiful — from the ocean to mountains to deserts. It’s all there — but it’s all messed up, you know? It’s a town that reaches for the brass ring but always misses it.”
The city is Connelly’s other flawed character, just as it was for Chandler’s Marlowe, his early influence. It’s a city that, while it may lead the world in TV production, has rarely been represented appealingly in its own medium.
“I’m writing about a guy who doesn’t exist,” says Connelly. “Harry Bosch is imagined. If I’m going to sell him as a realistic character, whether it’s in a book or a TV show, I’ve got to anchor him in something that is real, that is solid and is accurate.”
Bosch has allowed Connelly to chronicle the evolution of a city across 20 years, he says. “Because it’s an entertainment mecca, this town breeds the cynical hopefulness that you see in Marlowe. I hate people thinking their city is unique, but there is a certain aura about Los Angeles; it’s not necessarily a beautiful thing, but it’s part of Harry Bosch.”
Bosch is played with moody assurance by the hitherto nondescript leading-man type Titus Welliver, who has a Humphrey Bogart way of saying everything necessary by the way he lights a cigarette or simply gazes ahead at the deadly job that confronts him.
Season three draws its various plot lines from that first Bosch novel, The Black Echo, which introduced Bosch, his war-damaged psyche and his total disdain for authority; and the seventh, A Darkness More Than Night, from 2001, by which time Bosch estimates he has investigated several hundred homicides.
It picks up 16 months after the second. Harry’s in a bad way, truculent, depressive, not sleeping and under great emotional duress.
While he has finally solved the murder of his mother, he is still left with the pain and resentment, the killer, “Big Wave Dave” or Dave Aronson, having been somewhat protected by the police. At the end of the final episode of season two he visits Aronson’s grave and tells him he won because he “got away with it”.
He then spits on the grave and leaves, remembering the last night that he saw his mother alive. (Bosch’s dark backstory was informed by yet another LA crime fiction master, James Ellroy. Like Ellroy, Bosch was reared by a single mother who was murdered when he was a child. For inspiration, Connelly seeks Ellroy’s permission to use his real experi- ence — a murder that remains unsolved. There can be no spiritual armistice.
“Peace? That’s a load of shit,” he snaps at his lieutenant, Grace Billets (Amy Aquino), worried about his state of mind as the third season unfolds. Harry is way off the reservation.
The major case involves the discovery by a young black-hooded graffiti artist named Sharky (Bridger Zadina) on November 8, 2016 — the night of the election of Donald Trump — who witnesses a shiny black SUV roll up on a parked mobile home on a deserted street, hears gunshots, and sees the car drive abruptly away. When he enters the vehicle, he sees the dead body of a white male.
Sharky is straight out of The Black Echo, the character that was the starting point for the novel written 25 years ago. “The street kid was the first fictional character on the page, drawn from runaway kids I knew while growing up and working in the kitchens of hotels in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,” the writer has said.
“Harry came into the story after — obviously drawn from literary and movie heroes as well as detectives I met as a news reporter.”
Bosch is called to the scene with his sharpdressing partner Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector), the disintegrating body “a hazard to human health” according to his fastidious offsider, and identifies Special Forces tattoos on the corpse as belonging to the elite Green Berets.
They quickly discover he is Billy Meadows who, after serving in Iraq, returned home a broken man and became a drug addict and vagrant. While it looks like it is a “homeless-on-homeless” killing, his death hits close to home with Bosch, who served in Operation Desert Storm.
Bosch also has under surveillance an alleged serial killer, Ed Gunn (Frank Clem), who he has been tracking for a long time and who avoided trial for the rape and murder of two women due to the district attorney’s refusal to prosecute.
The detective has set up cameras at a building across from Gunn’s apartment. He is intrigued by a woman in red who he sees on the tape one night pushing the drunken Gunn through his door. Later, Gunn is murdered.
More immediately there is the trial of slinky femme fatal Ronnie Allen (Jeri Ryan), at the centre of so much of the previous season, which is compromised once more by Bosch’s perceived history of planting evidence.
There is also a high-profile investigation he has been working on for 13 months, involving a Hollywood director accused of killing a woman during kinky sex; but there is no evidence, no witnesses and no phone records. The murder scene has been wiped clean. And Bosch’s teenage daughter Maddie (Madeline Linz) with former FBI profiler Eleanor Wish has come to live with him; Bosch is somewhat uncomfortable with the responsibilities of a single parent.
Harry, of course, is no conventional investigator. In most crime fiction, dramatic progress is marked by the discovery of elements that unlock the mystery (or mysteries in Connelly’s case) concealing the truth. With Bosch, we follow a psychological approach where the climax is servant to the analysis, the mystery giving way to the anguish of the investigator.
He is a man determined to gain and maintain control in the midst of personal and professional and political chaos: grace for Bosch is action tempered by humility.
“Everybody counts or nobody counts” is his mantra. In the series, as in the books, he is often to be found at night on the deck of his house in the Hollywood Hills looking out over the city before retreating to his bedroom, the only sounds faintly in the distance the barking of coyotes.
GRACE FOR BOSCH IS ACTION TEMPERED BY HUMILITY
Thursday, 8.35pm, SBS.