Audiobook Review: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

4 12 2012

The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch, Bk. 18)

Read by Matthew McConnohie

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 29 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Black Box is another winning entry in this series featuring one of my favorite fictional detectives, Harry Bosch. While this isn’t my favorite Harry Bosch mystery, it’s full of moments that should resonate with fans of this series. The mystery is solid, and Connelly finds a way to merge the 20 years in the sordid history of Los Angeles with the 20 Harry Bosch has been bringing killers to justice.

Grade: B+

I didn’t realize until I started listening to The Black Box that Harry Bosch is now 20 years old. Well, more succinctly, Harry Bosch, as a literary character is now 20 years old. The number 20 is playing a significant role in my life this year. I was never a very social kid in high school, and really maintain no friendships from my graduating class, so, it took me a while to realize that this year would have been my 20th High School reunion. This has been a very reflexive year in my life, hitting this milestone, and dealing with numerous familial issues has caused me to spend a lot of time evaluating the choices I have made over the past 20 years. I really can’t remember when I first encounter Michael Connelly’s writing, or became a fan of Harry Bosch, but I have significant memories of the past that are tied right in with his work. I remember about 12 years ago, taking a trip after deciding that I needed a career change, riding on Septa to 30th Street Station, reading Void Moon. I remember the first audiobook experience that really won me over to the format was The Lincoln Lawyer. The first major post I ever wrote for this blog was my Top 20 Audiobooks of 2010, in which Connelly’s The Reversal took the first spot. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen Harry take on serial killers, corrupt cops, his often belligerent bosses and solve numerous crimes, including the murder of his own mother. We’ve read of the tragedies in his life, and the joys his daughter brings to him. We’ve rode along side of him as he listened to Jazz and ate at food trucks working his way through the dirty streets of LA acting as the voice of the dead. On the surface Harry may seem like your typical, almost stereotypical gruff cop, but as his fans all have come to know, there is more to this man than any surface glance will ever tell. So, happy twentieth birthday to Harry Bosch, I’m sure you have plenty more tales to tell.

In The Black Box, Harry, still working in the Open/Unsolved Unit, is looking into the murder of a foreign journalist which took place during the hectic days of the LA riots. 20 years ago, during the chaos, Harry and his then partner Edgar Styles were the original detectives on the scene of the murder, but eventually the case was rolled into a task force looking into murders during the riots. Now, new forensic evidence has opened new investigative paths, and Harry is feeling things starting to fall into place. Yet, clashes with his bosses and public relation issues are putting pressure on Harry to put the case on the back burner, something that never sits right with Bosch. I have to admit, at first I was sort of ho humm about The Black Box. I love Harry Bosch as a character, and was enjoying the peripheral aspects of the story, Harry’s relationship with his daughter, his clashes with his boss, and his procedural routines, but the case he was working on didn’t really grab me. I loved the early parts, with Harry reflecting on the riots, and walking the reader through how the case fell through the cracks, but the mystery of the thing just wasn’t pulling me in. Until, it did. I’m not sure when the change happened, but at some point, I went from sort of ‘meh’ to utterly engaged. It’s really been a while since Harry’s books have really dealt with a cold case, and like the cases themselves, there is a moment in this story where it moves from being a cold case, with forensics looking for a key piece of evidence, to an active case, where the personalities of the victim and possible perpetrators begin to form. This is why I feel Connelly is probably the best procedural writer in the business today. He gives his cases an organic progression that reflects his characters. The investigation in some way becomes a character in its own right. Connelly doesn’t need trick endings, or out of left field twists to make his stories work. He simply tells the story that needs to be told, allowing the revelations to come in a realistic way. The Black Box is another winning entry in this series featuring one of my favorite fictional detectives, Harry Bosch. While this isn’t my favorite Harry Bosch mystery, it’s full of moments that should resonate with fans of this series. The mystery is solid, and Connelly finds a way to merge the 20 years in the sordid history of Los Angeles with the 20 Harry Bosch has been bringing killers to justice.

Narrations of a long running series are often problematic, and the Harry Bosch series has its fair share of narrators. There have been two main narrators over the course of this series, Dick Hill and Len Cariou, with a few others voicing Harry, including Peter Giles handling Bosch’s appearances in the Mickey Haller series. I recently was discussing "the voice of Harry Bosch" with another fan of the series. For her, Len Cariou was Harry, but for me, it was always Dick Hill. I never really warmed up to Cariou’s Bosch. In reality, my favorite voice for Bosch was Peter Giles, and was hoping that the audio producers would choose him when Cariou was no longer available. Well, Hachette went a new direction with Bosch, having Michael McConnohie take over as the new voice of Harry.  It really took me a while to adjust to McConnohie’s narration, and even now, I have mixed feelings about it. I didn’t hate his performance, but I really didn’t love it either. I liked a lot of his characterizations of the peripheral characters in the book, but I found his pacing to be somewhat awkward, bordering on robotic. There were moments his awkward pacing actually worked. For example, Bosch spent a lot of times reading from websites, and translated text and McConnohie’s style worked really well for this. Yet, his overall reading of the prose and Bosch’s inner dialogue felt a bit stilted. His voice for Harry was gruff enough, and age appropriate, but, there is always some level of disconnect with the voice of a protagonist after a narrator change. Yet, by about halfway through the production, I was engaged enough in the story, where my issues with the narration managed to bleed into the background. It’s hard based on this performance, to find McConnohie’s place within the pantheon of Bosch narrators, but I’m still willing to give him his chance. 

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3 responses

8 12 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I’m not sure I could start a series now knowing that it would have so many narrators.

12 12 2012
nikkipolani

I’m disappointed to hear about McConnohie — I’ve listened to all the Bosch stories except Angel’s Flight up to The Closers and I’ve liked Dick Hill the best. Len Carriou was okay, but sometimes had odd phrasing. Thanks for the review.

18 02 2013
Laurie C

I finished listening a while ago, but finally finished my review of The Black Box. I linked back to this post. It took me a little while to adjust to the new narrator, but I thought he did pretty well over all. I wouldn’t want too much emotion in the narrator’s voice, since Harry keeps his emotions so tightly bottled up!

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