Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Black Box - by Michael Connelly

Detective Harry Bosch is back in his stint as part of the open and unsolved (cold case) unit (he has a limited term contract under the LAPDs Deferred Retirement Option Plan). He is working a murder case from back in 1992, during the L.A. riots, that he originally investigated but because of the situation in the city was forced to quickly move on and hand it off to a task force that was unable to solve it. As usual, as soon as Harry gains a little momentum, he quickly runs up against departmental politics.

If you are not familiar with Bosch, this is the 18th book of the series that features him. I find Harry to be one of the more realistic protagonists of the crime thriller genre. He is smart and tough, but certainly no genius or para-military freak of nature. He makes mistakes sometimes, he struggles with guilt, he can be gruff and he sometimes deals poorly with his emotions and relationships. He is dedicated to his police work, however, and does what it takes to close his cases and obtain justice. He follows his moral code, even if that means bending a few rules or making decisions that jeopardize himself and/or his career.

The title of the book was highlighted from two aspects. First, Bosch mentions knowledge passed down to him that the key to investigation is finding the "black box."  Just as the wreckage is combed after a plane crash to find the aircraft's black box, the key to criminal investigation is to find the one piece of evidence that will pull the case together.  Second, the time of the murder in this book preceded the widespread use of digital storage technologies common today.  Back then, handwritten notes were jotted on index cards and stored in little black boxes.  An old-school cop like Harry is comfortable and even a little nostalgic about things like this.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Because I Said So! - by Ken Jennings

74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings gives the real scoop on much of the conventional wisdom passed down from parents.

Ken unveils the truth behind parental guidance such as "Don't talk to strangers!"; "Don’t crack your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis!"; "Don't cross your eyes—they'll get stuck like that!"; "Stay away from the poinsettia! The leaves are poisonous."; "No swimming for an hour after lunch. You'll cramp up." "When you start shaving, the hair will grow in thicker.";"Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day."; " "Most of your body heat escapes through your head!"; "If you pick up a baby bird, its mommy will reject it."; "Take off the Band-Aid to let your cut air out."; and many more of the things we probably all heard while growing up and now likely pass on to our own kids.

This is a fun, entertaining, informative, and downright delightful book.  I learned a lot from this quick read and had a few nostalgic chuckles with about my personal experiences with the subject matter and Jenning's sometimes witty explanations.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Racketeer - by John Grisham

Malcolm Bannister is an incarcerated former lawyer who tells his story of getting caught in the net of a zealous federal prosecution of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act violations. He is currently a resident of the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

When Judge Raymond Fawcett and his secretary are murdered at his lakeside Virginia cabin, the FBI investigation quickly stalls. Malcolm claims to have the information they need to close the case. Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows for a prisoner to be pardoned or have their sentence reduced if they can solve another crime and Malcolm wants a deal based on this. As you probably expect, however, the situation is not as straightforward as it may appear.

This story does not follow the traditional Grisham formula. It is, however, an intriguing tale about the execution of a complex and well planned scheme. There a plenty of surprising twists and turns. I was a little conflicted about Malcolm. I wanted to like him, and generally did, but also found him a little cocky and even annoying at times. If you demand uncompromised realism, you may have issues with the storyline. For me, personally, though, I really enjoyed it.