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Open up any of the non broadsheets and you are probably reading a newspaper in name alone. After a token page on politics and some articles on bleak crime like murder you will find yourself reading pages about celebrities. News no longer sells it seems as people would rather go online and get it for free, or watch the 24 hours news channels that keep up to date. Opinion pieces, scare mongering and celebrity tittle tattle are how papers sell today. They try to one-up one another with who's sleeping with whom, what drugs have been taken and who stole Jacko's nose? Even those newspapers that claim to be above it all seem packed to the gills with opinions. Back in the day the newspapers were a vital element of in-depth news coverage that could not be found anywhere else. Reading articles from the 70s and 80s must prove that papers were better back then?
Michael Connelly is one of the best selling crime writers around with his standalone books, but also his Harry Bosch mysteries. He has a splendid writing style that enthuses noir with modern LA. In Bosch he has created one of the most sympathetic and well rounded investigators in recent history. Connelly has managed to achieve all this by having the experience to do so. Before writing novels full time he was a crime reporter for various newspapers including one in LA. His experiences of real cops, killers and cases have informed his novels and made them some of the most authentic crime books around. 'Crime Beat' is a selection of his journalistic writings and help fans of his work see how his earlier life influenced his books.
Split into three distinct areas Connelly uses 'Crime Beat' to explore the police of the late 70, early 80s, the various killers and the some of the most prominent cases. I was looking forward to some insight by Connelly into how his articles directly influenced his books. However, this never occurs except in the foreword. Connelly briefly mentions how he used the stories he wrote to good effect, but does not get specific. This means that there is no evaluation of the articles and we never get a true sense of how life imitates art and vice versa. Instead, only fans of his books will benefit from the stories. It is up to you as the reader to notice yourself that some of the articles parallel the books. I would have preferred the influences to have been highlighted specifically by the author, but it seems as though he was reluctant to do this.
This reluctance begins to border on laziness when you start to realise by the third story that the book has not been edited in any meaningful way. With approx 20 stories from his career Connelly has cut and pasted the articles into chapters and not coherently edited anything. Stuffing article after article into a book just does not work. Imagine you are a journalist who writes about a murder giving the details etc. Some months later a break through arrives and you write another article. In 1979 it has been 6 months between articles so the reader needs a recap, therefore you write a similar article to before, but with updates. In book form this means that the reader is reading the same thing again in 2 pages time! Some of the stories in 'Crime Beat' are made up of 4 or more articles, each repeating the last. It is very dull and smacks of arrogance. Why could Connelly not have edited the stories into single articles specifically for the book? This almost feels like a print it for free money making scheme - the fans will buy anything.
When the book has an opinion piece by Connelly it works. These are the columns that Connelly wrote to be self contained and have a start, middle and end. One on how drugs made a man into a serial burglar, or how Connelly felt about an infamous serial killer. These articles almost have the feel of a short story and are few and far between. You have to read a lot of repetitive dross to get to the two or three things worth reading.
One final note about 'Crime Beat' is the depressing nature of it all. The crimes written about are over 20 years old and take a snap shot of 20 or so incidents. Each one ends in a tiny recap by Connelly were he informs us if the killer was caught etc. Far too many of the stories end in the killer still being free and I found it all very sad. The double jeopardy bill for one means that a killer escapes justice as he cannot be tried twice. Having watched 'The Wire' in recent months and read this book I have little faith in the US police system.
With its lack of editing the entire book feels like a cash in and will be of no interest to none Connelly fans. Reading about bleak crime from over 20 years ago with no justice is not my idea of fun. I also feel that Connelly fans themselves will feel cheated from the book as it was probably released to cash in on their fandom between major fiction works and was never meant to be a great piece of work.
Author: Michael Connelly
Price: amazon uk - £6.39