A new sleuth

The Late Show by Michael Connelly Grand Central 409pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 595 baht

Society is based on the deal that in return for protection and security, the authorities have permission to define our rights, inalienable and otherwise. Laws and regulations apply. Nothing is more disconcerting than when they overstep their limits.

The authorities exercise control of the populace, but who controls the authorities when they get out of line? Supposedly, other authorities intent on keeping the deal. How this is done is grist for novelists. The populace can do little under the circumstances but witness the conflict.

Michael Connelly, a noted author of crime thrillers, gives us a fictitious example in The Late Show. As is customary in this genre, he offers a literary creation as his protagonist. Detective Harry Bosch long ago caught on with fans and a series has been built around him.

This time around, Connelly has introduced another formidable sleuth. Renee Ballard is a woman homicide detective in the Los Angeles Police Department, Hollywood precinct. On the Force for 14 years, single, she lives alone with her dog, Lola.

Ballard isn't Wonder Woman with the strength of 10. What she has going for her is experience, dedication, a stubborn streak a mile wide, marginal respect for her superiors and the willingness to bend a rule or two when it furthers her investigations.

For falling afoul of her lieutenant, she is penalised by being transferred to night duty, a disadvantage of which is her cases have to be handed over to the day squad to handle. Such as a massacre in a nightclub, plus additional murders -- one of which is of her former partner.

It appears certain that the killer is a cop, but she guesses the wrong one, until evidence points her in the right direction.

As a person, Renee Ballard is too in-your-face to be likeable. Still, it's comforting to know that she's on the right side.

Michael Connelly writes well, better than most. He has 39 books under his belt, which have sold umpteen million copies.


The Susan Effect by Peter Hoeg Harwill Secker 347pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 575 baht

Net sci-fi

That our planet is vulnerable has been written for ages. Preachers and astrologers keep reminding us of it. Scientists and astronomers aren't far behind. If the cause isn't one thing, it's another. Nature is one reason, we are another -- not necessarily in that order.

It's not a matter of what-if but when. The oil supply is bound to run dry. The next ice age is about due in the Northern Hemisphere. What of the next pandemic? Asteroids have hit us before. Rising seas are flooding lands. With 7 billion and counting, millions are starving.

Animal, fish and bird species are becoming extinct. Can global warming be arrested? Good and bad angels are gearing up for the final battle.

End-of-the-world films have us being invaded by aliens. Wars of religion are battering democracies. As nuclear know-how is becoming widespread, WMDs become standard weapons. What's very clear is that we are self-destructing. The Big Question is: how can we survive?

The solution offered by science-fiction writers is to escape into outer space. With so many heavenly bodies around, there must surely be one with similar habitable conditions to Earth. Well, perhaps. However, in The Susan Effect, Danish author Peter Hoeg has a simpler way.

Why not move to a desert island in the Pacific Ocean with supplies and seeds for planting to become self-sustaining. Technology and electronics will take care of water, electricity, plumbing, the necessities of life. Even computers. Let the rest of the planet knock itself out.

The problem is populating it with a few hundred of the best of the best. Only Danes, of course. Susan, a chemist, mother of two, doesn't much like the project, believing there's hope for us yet by staying put. The conflict between ideas results in abductions (her children) and murders.

Hoeg informs his readers about Copenhagen and its environs, Danish politics, the customs and mires of the citizenry.

Scandinavia -- Sweden, Norway, Denmark -- has a growing literary community. This reviewer can't say whose authors are best. Curiously, the best novels about Russia since the implosion of communism there are by foreign scriveners.

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