Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Police, Email Warrants, & Connelly's The Black Echo

From yesterday's Guardian article "Justice Department backs rewriting law that allows police to read emails:"
The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it supports rewriting 26-year-old legislation that has allowed US law enforcement officials to read a person's emails without a search warrant so long as the email is older than six months or already opened. The law has long been criticized by privacy advocates as a loophole when it comes to protecting Americans from government snooping. "There is no principled basis to treat email less than 180 days old differently than email more than 180 days old," Elana Tyrangiel, acting assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, told a House judiciary subcommittee. She also said emails deserve the same legal protections whether they have been opened or not. Tyrangiel's testimony gives Congress a starting point as it begins to review a complicated 1986 law known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

I thought it would be interesting to read a novel about a police officer's experiences in the US. Apparently I'm far from alone in this, as "police procedural" appears to be a huge and growing fiction sub-genre. I checked around, including looking at an online police forum, and here's what I came up with:
  • Michael Connelly is considered one of the best police/crime writers, and The Black Echo -- while at times clichéd and overdramatic -- appears to be a good starting point for his work:
For maverick LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, the body in the drainpipe at Mulholland Dam is more than another anonymous statistic. This one is personal...because the murdered man was a fellow Vietnam "tunnel rat" who had fought side by side with him in a hellish underground war. Now Bosch is about to relive the horror of Nam. From a dangerous maze of blind alleys to a daring criminal heist beneath the city, his survival instincts will once again be tested to their limit. Pitted against enemies inside his own department and forced to make the agonizing choice between justice and vengeance, Bosch goes on the hunt for a killer whose true face will shock him.
  • Suspect by Robert Crais. So the description for this novel started out fairly standard: "LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well. Eight months ago, a shocking nighttime assault by unidentified men killed his partner Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode. He is unfit for duty...until he meets his new partner. Maggie is not doing so well, either..." At this point, I was expecting the usual trite nonsense about "Maggie, his astonishingly attractive new female partner etc etc." Instead, the author threw me a curveball and made Maggie a PTSD dog: "...Maggie is not doing so well, either. A German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler to an IED, her PTSD is as bad as Scott's. They are each other's last chance. Shunned and shunted to the side, they set out to investigate the one case that no one wants them to touch: the identity of the men who murdered Stephanie." 
It's the 1960s. A hot August night lies heavy over the Carolinas. The corpse -- legs sprawled, stomach down on the concrete pavement, arms above the head -- brings the patrol car to a halt. The local police pick up a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs, only to discover that their most likely suspect is a homicide detective from California -- and the racially tense community's single hope in solving a brutal murder that turns up no witnesses, no motives, no clues.

Finally, I wanted to share this hilarious review of The Black Echo, by Goodreads user Kemper:
I’ve designed a gadget that will notify me when I run across clichés in crime thrillers with a *BEEP*. Let’s give it a test run on this Michael Connelly novel, shall we? So this is the first book in the series featuring a LAPD detective named Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch *BEEP*. .. ...why is it going off already? Oh, right. Quirky name for a main character. It seems to be calibrated correctly. Let’s proceed. 
In this novel published in 1992, Harry is a Vietnam veteran *BEEP* traumatized by his war experiences *BEEP* as a so-called tunnel rat who fought the VC in their network of underground passages. Harry is a driven detective whose inability to compromise often puts him at odds with his fellow cops *BEEP*. He has no family or life outside of his work *BEEP*, and he’s a borderline burn-out who lives on a diet of coffee, cigarettes and beer. *BEEP* Harry gets called to check out a dead body in a drainage pipe that everyone on the scene instantly assumes is a junkie who overdosed, but he has a hunch that it was actually a murder. *BEEP* Part of the reason Harry is convinced it was homicide is that he recognizes the victim as one of his fellow Vietnam tunnel rats. *BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP* Damn, the old war buddy schtick really swung the needle into the red on this thing. 
Harry quickly finds evidence that the victim was involved in a high profile bank robbery that had involved tunneling into a vault and emptying the safe deposit boxes. When Harry tries to get the FBI’s attention, he meets a beautiful female agent *BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP* named Eleanor Wish, but he also lands in hot water with his lieutenant who gets angry and yells at him a lot even though he hasn’t done anything wrong . *BEEP*. He also becomes the target of overzealous Internal Affairs cops *BEEP* that hound him even as he works with the FBI to try and solve the case. This quickly leads to a romance with Agent Wish *BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP*..and *BEEP*….Uh oh.. I think it’s overloading…*BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP* Is that smoke?? *BEEP* *BEEP* BEEP* Where’s the off switch? *BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP**BEEEEEeeeeeeepppppp…pp..pp* Crap. I think Connelly broke it.
Anyhow, the odd thing about his book is that even though it’s got just about every cop thriller cliché you’ve ever heard of, it still works pretty well. 

UPDATE:  longer reviews of The Black Echo can be found at Carol's Notebook and Reactions to Reading.

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