Michael Connelly’s famous detective, Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, has been a character on the edge of retirement for some time now. A curmudgeon since first introduced to readers some twenty-two years ago, he’s battled the worst scum you could imagine and lived to tell the tale – which is more than I can say for some of his partners…
You’d think the hardest working detective in the business would bow out gracefully. If nothing else, The Burning Room, the nineteenth book in the series, shows Harry’s not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Not by a long shot.
64-year-old Bosch is closing in on a well-earned retirement and now working the LAPD’s open-unsolved division – the unit’s oldest – as he waits out the clock. A department initiative pairs him with 28-year old rookie Lucia (Lucy) Soto, wise beyond her years and already something of a known commodity after taking down armed assailants and earning the ire of the 13th Street gang, one of the city’s most deadly.
Harry’s latest puts him at the center of not one but two cold-cases, each with its own decaying sense of justice and uneasy answers. The first involves the recent death of paraplegic Orlando Merced, an ex-mariachi player who finally succummbed to the toxicity of the bullet lodged in his spine ten years ago after a failed assassination attempt. Too dangerous to extract while alive, Merced’s death allows the fatal bullet to be extracted and examined for clues, ultimately re-classifying the case as homicide.
Only this one brings with it political connotations. Armando Zeyas, a former Los Angeles mayor and hero in the Latino community, is eyeing the governorship, and the publicity of the Merced cast could be just the thing to propel him to victory. It’s a tactic that worked well in the past. In his heyday Zeyas would cart out a wheelchaired Merced at rallies, often wearing the same blouse he was wearing when shot, still bloodstained red.
Things really start ‘heating up’ (forgive the pun) when Bosch discovers his new partner rooting around in files from another long-resolved case, one even closer than the Merced case. It was the horrific Bonnie Brae arson attack back in 1993 that left nine people dead – including eight children – in an unlicensed day care. Soto’s connection to the case goes beyond personal. “Ever since I wanted to be a cop I thought about solving the case. It burned inside of me,”
“You never open a door on a burning room,” Harry tells her.
As Harry and Soto track down each case’s surviving witnesses and possible suspects we’re treated to the same meticulous, inside view that’s helped make this series one of the most compelling in serialized fiction. Yes, there are plenty of twists and turns as the finale nears, but they’re handled in such a unique and interesting way that one can’t help but marvel at how deftly Connelly handles their inevitable outcome. Too often detective writers fail to get the small details just right; Connelly gets them perfectly, and it’s fantastic.
This being a detective novel, I wouldn’t dare reveal them here, as the beauty of Connelly’s narrative comes from revelation, both investigatorial and the introspective. Harry may be one grizzled veteran detective, as evidenced by a bad-ass scene involving an open-area shotgun deterrent to a threatening gang stakeout, but he’s not beyond contemplating his own inner failures as a man. This has always been one of Connelly’s biggest strengths as a detective writer; humility where it counts, yet never at the expense of his beloved character’s reputation. This is still, after all, Harry Bosch we’re talking about.
And there’s plenty of inside info and innuendo for longtime Bosch fans to revel in, from Harry’s own interspersed backstory (including multiple love angles that could only exist in fiction), to a nice inside jab about his daughter catching that new “science-fiction story” starring Matthew McConaughey. Given the timing I’m certain it’s for Interstellar, but for deeper reference, see The Lincoln Lawyer.
A final message: the press notes would like me to let you know this is the ‘last’ Harry Bosch novel before the detective’s adventures expands onto the smaller screen, courtesy of Amazon Studios, in the upcoming series titled, appropriately, BOSCH. Regardless if Harry’s serialized mission succeeds or not, I’m willing to bet there’s plenty more adventure on the printed page for years to come.