Connelly, Michael. The Burning Room.

NY: Little, Brown, 2014.

Harry Bosch has been a cop with the LAPD for almost four decades, but he’s now on the last year of his last deferred retirement contract and he’s beginning to panic a little. What is he going to do when he no longer has the badge and the gun? He’s a homicide detective of vast experience and he’s been working cold cases for a few years now, where all those years of catching killers can be put to best use reworking unsolved murders in the light of new forensic technology.

And now he has a has a brand-new partner, Lucy Sota, who has won the Medal of Valor as a street cop but is totally inexperienced as a detective. Maybe Harry can pass on the torch to someone worthy — his parting gift to the Department.

The case they catch as their first one together involves the decade-old shooting from a distance of a mariachi musician in a crowded public plaza, but the man has only just now died of eventual complications (which makes it murder). The bullet was lodged in his spine and only now is it available for analysis — and it turns out to have come from a rifle, not the expected handgun, which changes the investigation considerably. It probably wasn’t a random drive-by after all, but a targeted hit.

But, of course, there’s more than one case here. Lucy, when she was seven, was one of the survivors of an apartment house fire in which many of her young friends died in a basement day-care center. It turned out to be arson and her determination to track down the perpetrators, even twenty years later, was one of the main factors that led her to become a cop. Harry understands this (he has his own dark history) and he agrees to quietly help her with her personal hunt, as long as their official case on the mariachi shooting doesn’t get sidelined.

Most of the book is a straightforward procedural plot, finding new ways of looking at information from the old files, dealing with the changes in the actual scene since the crime occurred, locating long-vanished witnesses, thinking up new investigative avenues to pursue — and all of that is quite interesting. The mariachi case leads them eventually to a powerful local politician, which makes everything even more difficult, of course, and the arson case is found to tie into another unsolved crime, which they didn’t expect at all.

Harry has long since developed an almost intuitive sense of the connection between suspects and events (“I’ve been reading people for nearly forty years”) and young “Lucky Lucy” seems to have the right instincts and plenty of drive, showing up in the squad room even earlier than her partner. (Though she’s apparently willing to use her weapon too readily.) But, all in all, it’s a pretty good read.

However, Connelly follows the pattern he seems to have adopted in the last few books in this series of using a flat, unemotional narrative with the action often described rather than shown, and with conversations described instead of presented as dialogue. It’s like he’s distancing himself from the story, and I think his strategy certainly has that effect on the reader. The early Bosch books were nothing like that. There’s a minimum of enthusiasm in the writing these days. It’s kind of like the author is just waiting impatiently for Harry to pull the pin so he can get on with some other project himself.


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