Book review: The Dark Hours

James Walton 29 November 2021

The veteran crime writer Michael Connelly returns with a thrill-packed yet incisive look at present-day America

Not for nothing is Michael Connelly one of the biggest selling and most acclaimed crime writers in the world. His books combine brilliantly plotted police procedural, terrific set-pieces, tough but humane central detectives and a fantastically vivid sense of place (the place in question being Los Angeles).

But there’s something else as well. While never forgetting the need to thrill, his work—as befits that of a former journalist—provides a sharp and often very troubling guide to a changing America, with real-life events blended smoothly into the fiction.

His latest opens on December 31, 2020: a year that “for most people in the world… couldn’t end soon enough.”  The American police, though, have more to worry about than just a global pandemic. Since the protests calling for their defunding that followed the death of George Floyd, their job has become so difficult and their morale so low that avoiding controversy has become more important than fighting crime.

As a result, many officers these days are “looking to do as little as possible between now and retirement, no matter how far away it was”. 

"The American police, though, have more to worry about than just a global pandemic"

This is the backdrop against which Connelly’s newest detective, Renée  Ballard, joins forces with his oldest, Harry Bosch, to solve two particularly tricky cases: one featuring what seems to be a serial killer, the other a pair of serial rapists known as the Midnight Men.

Both Ballard and Bosch will need every scrap of their toughness and humanity to succeed, much of the time against the wishes of their quiet-life-seeking colleagues.

As ever, they go about their business in a way that’s thoroughly compelling without being remotely flashy, but that still leads up to a heart-thumping climax. As ever too, Connelly isn’t content merely to sketch the many aspects of LA life that they encounter—including Hispanic gangs, rich dentists and, somewhat unexpectedly, the city’s street lighting department. Instead, he fully colours them in.

Thirty-odd books into his career, and with his reputation firmly established, Connelly could perhaps be forgiven for coasting a little by now. So far, though, he shows no sign of it. 

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly is published by Orion

Reader’s Digest Recommended Read: Being Billy

In the books world, as Christmas approaches, ’tis once again the season to publish celebrity autobiographies. But will any be as candid as Billy Connolly’s?

Two-thirds of the way through, Billy reveals that he’s dictating Windswept and Interesting into a phone. By then, however, this doesn’t come as a total surprise—because the book is a loose and chatty ramble through his life and times, with regular digressions into such things as his favourite biscuits. 

There’s a complete absence of PR polish too, with Billy both admitting and sometimes displaying his refusal to always play nice. He makes no attempt to disguise his continuing if understandable bitterness about the cruelty of his Aunt Mona, who brought up him and his sister Florence after the break-up of his parents’ marriage. Nor has he forgotten or forgiven the violence of many of his teachers (tellingly, the sexual abuse by his father is passed over in a couple of sentences that end “I just buried all that shame”). Later, he spares us little in describing the various effects of his Parkinson’s disease, among them greatly increased flatulence.

Yet, what’s most striking about the book is how extraordinary the arc of Billy’s life has been: from the Glasgow tenements to Hollywood, by way of the Clydeside shipyards, the Paras, the 1970s Scottish folk scene (when he was in a duo with Gerry Rafferty) and performing stand-up to packed audiences across the world. There were also his years as an alcoholic, before his second wife Pamela Stephenson encouraged/forced him to clean up.

But here he is when, aged four and living in Glasgow’s Dover Street, his life was about to take a sudden change for the worse…

"We lived on the third floor of our tenement, and there was a smelly communal toilet on the landing. Our little two-roomed flat was a bit gloomy. I just remember an alcove bed, a kitchen table, and a sideboard with a drawer that was my crib when I was a baby. There was no bathroom, and no hot water; Florence washed both of us standing up in the kitchen. All this may sound awful, but it wasn’t. There was a warmth about tenements, because of the people who lived in them.

They were colourful, vertical villages. Sure, they were considered slums. People say, ‘Oh, the *deprivation*!’ Nonsense! When you’re a wee boy it’s not like that. It felt great to have all these nice neighbours. And we had a big wooden toilet seat… luxury!

I was born on the kitchen floor on 24 November 1942, during World War Two. That’s the only date you’re getting in this book, because my birthday’s the only one I can remember. A few years ago, I forgot Pamela’s birthday and had to get it tattooed on my arm, but I still missed it the next year because I forgot to look.

Anyway, when I was born my dad was away fighting in Burma and India. I don’t remember my mother being there much. Maybe she worked—I don’t know. She was an attractive teenager—like a British film starlet—with wavy dark hair and a smiley face. Everybody I met later who knew her said she was funny, and so volatile she could start a fire in an empty room. 

"I was born on the kitchen floor on 24 November 1942, during World War Two"

I don’t remember her hugging me, although I remember her smell. It was Florence who looked after me. She bathed me, fed me, dressed me. Tried to keep me out of trouble. Florence was only 18 months older than I was. It never occurred to us that she was far too young to be in that position, with no adult around for hours on end. 

But I felt jolly when Florence was next to me. We slept together in the alcove bed in the kitchen, and she used to teach me songs. She also used to shine a hand mirror on the wall, making a circle of light. She chased me with it till I screeched like a parrot. 

The most profound memory I have from 65 Dover Street was the time I woke early and went to look for my mother. I opened the door to her bedroom and saw a stranger—a shirtless man, sitting in a chair, putting on his socks. I realised my mother was in bed, but I couldn’t see her because she was behind the door. This guy just put his foot on my forehead and gently pushed me out the door, then closed it. I found out later his name was Willie Adams, my mother’s lover. Shortly afterwards, she left us."


Windswept And Interesting: My Autobiography is published by Two Roads at £25

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