Thursday, December 02, 2010

Crime Beat

Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers is one of those books that work much better in theory than in execution.  It is based on what seems to be the rather clever idea of reprinting the newspaper articles Michael Connelly wrote as a young crime beat reporter in order to illustrate how he morphed into the respected crime fiction writer he is today.  Not surprisingly, Connelly carried away more from his reporting days than just a few plot ideas he could use later in his novels.  He also developed his writing skills and, most importantly, his observational skills.  The capability to see below the surface of the individuals he reported on (cops and killers, alike) that he picked up as a young reporter is what enables Connelly to create some of the most memorable characters in modern crime fiction. 

As Connelly puts it in the book’s introduction:

“There could not have been the novelist without there first being the reporter on the crime beat.  I could not write about my fictional detective Harry Bosch without having written about the real detectives first.  I could not create my killers without having talked to a few of the real ones first.”

Crime Beat features an interesting selection of newspaper articles written by Connelly during his crime beat days in Miami and Los Angeles.  Based upon their emphasis, the articles are divided into three distinct sections: “The Cops,” “The Killers,” and “The Cases.”  Fans of Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels will be quick to see a little of Harry in some of the detectives featured in the articles, as well as prototypes for the criminals with whom Harry does constant battle.  They will perhaps even recognize some of the crimes described in the articles as being the springboards for some of the stories themselves.      

All well and good - but the big problem with the book stems from the nature of the cases and articles featured.  Many of these cases were of the spectacular variety, either because of the nature of the crimes themselves or because it took law enforcement officers so long to solve them.  For those reasons, most of the featured crimes required Connelly to write an initial newspaper article and at least one or two follow-up articles, sometimes four or five of them.  Since none of the articles appear to have been edited for inclusion in Crime Beat, that means that details of the crime, including details about the killers and victims, are repeated several times within the ten or fifteen pages dedicated to each event.  A reader with even a minimum capacity for remembering details will quickly become bored, if not irritated, by all that repetition.

And that makes Crime Beat rather difficult to get through - I found myself skimming the pages of the articles to a degree I have seldom experienced before – and a bit disappointing because it does not work as well as it should have.

Rated at: 2.5

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