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Literary Glance: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

August 3, 2017

The Late Show by Michael Connelly is a very easy read so far, and I don’t mean that as an insult.  My brain hasn’t stumbled on much in the book yet (and my brain stumbles a lot), and I appreciate that.

Mysteries must be difficult to write.  The author has to include a bunch of gory crime details, plus make characters, including a bunch of potential suspects, interesting.  A lot of mysteries have a tough time finding the right combination of dialogue and exposition.  Readers don’t like long paragraphs filled with technical information.  But putting all that technical stuff in dialogue makes the conversation sound stilted.

For example, here’s a sample passage where police officers and detectives are discussing a victim:

Another patrol officer was standing in front of the curtain for treatment bay 4 and Ballard and Jenkins proceeded directly toward him.  He had three hash marks on his sleeves- fifteen years on the department- and Ballard knew him well.

“Smitty, the doc in there?” Ballard asked.

Officer Melvin Smith looked up from his phone, where he had been composing a text.

“Ballard, Jenkins, how’s it hanging?” Smith said.  Then: “Nah, she’s alone.  They’re about to take her up to the OR.  Fractured skull, brain swelling.  They said they need to open her head up to relieve the pressure.”

“I know the feeling,” Jenkins said.

“So she’s not talking?” Ballard asked.

“Not anymore,” Smith said.  “They sedated her and I overheard them talking about inducing a coma till the swelling goes down.  Hey, how’s Lola, Ballard?  Haven’t seen her in a while.”

“Lola’s good,” Ballard said.  “Did you guys find her, or was it a call?”

“It was a hot shot,” Smith said.  “Somebody must have called it in but they were GOA when we got there.  The vic was just lying there alone in the parking lot.  We thought she was dead when we first rolled up.”

A couple things were noteworthy about this excerpt.  First of all, Jenkins did a good job in not responding to the question “How’s it hanging?”  You have to be careful when answering that.  The standard acceptable response is “It hangs well” or “It’s well hung,” but you have to be careful who you say that around.  If you say “It’s well hung” in front of the wrong person, you can get fired or sued.

You probably shouldn’t say “How’s it hanging?” anymore either, but the guy who asked it has been in the department for 15 years and that kind of banter might have been acceptable 15 years ago.

Since Ballard is female, she probably has a harassment claim ready from that question if she wants to make one.  That’s okay.  Most guys can’t answer the question “How’s it hanging?” without lying or exaggerating.

Jenkins ruins the good will with his ‘I know the feeling’ comment, but I’ll stop there.

Anyway, my English teachers would have had some punctuation disagreements with the editors of this book.  In this excerpt alone, I found three compound sentences without commas.  At least, in my version of the book, these sentences have no commas.

Another patrol officer was standing in front of the curtain for treatment bay 4 and Ballard and Jenkins proceeded directly toward him.

There should have a comma separating the two actions in the sentence to make:

Another patrol officer was standing in front of the curtain for treatment bay 4, and Ballard and Jenkins proceeded directly toward him.

Here are two more compound sentences (I think) that don’t have commas.

They sedated her and I overheard them talking about inducing a coma till the swelling goes down.

Somebody must have called it in but they were GOA when we got there.

Both of these sentences should have commas, I think.  I’m not complaining that these sentences don’t have commas.  I really don’t care, except I would have gotten red-marked in school for not using commas in these sentences, and I thought putting a comma between two independent clauses in a compound sentence was universal.  I didn’t know there were exceptions.  Are there exceptions that my teachers forgot?  I don’t expect my teachers to have known everything, but this is pretty big.  If compound sentences don’t need commas, my whole worldview changes.  If compound sentences don’t need commas, then I wonder what else has been a lie.

Besides that, The Late Show by Michael Connelly seems like it will be a pretty good book.

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