The Burning Room
I was brought up short this weekend while cracking the binding on THE BURNING ROOM, Michael Connelly’s new Harry Bosch novel. What caused me to stop was that all-important list of his previous works, which spanned almost an entire page. When did Connelly write over 20 books? I didn’t believe that I had read them all, but indeed I had, not a stranger to be had in the extensive bunch of Bosch and so-called Lincoln Lawyer novels, with the very occasional stand-alone work sprinkled in here and there.
If someone ever gets around to writing an article about Connelly that addresses the question of how he has done what he does for so long, and continues to do it so well, mention will have to be made of the manner in which he has permitted Bosch to age. The passage of each year in life brings change with it --- sometimes subtle, sometimes otherwise. While authors who dabble in series fiction often ignore the issue, Connelly embraces it.
"I did not anticipate the ending, even as Connelly dropped subtle and ironic breadcrumbs throughout the narrative. Never fear: the novel is complete in itself, but long-time readers will anticipate the next Harry Bosch installment as they have no other."
As THE BURNING ROOM begins, Bosch is at some undetermined point in his early 60s, still with the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit and with less than a year to go before retirement. While contemplating the chasm of the unfamiliar, Bosch is not content to ride gently into that night. Instead, he pursues a long-festering mystery with a new spirit, as if he senses the dogs of his mortality chasing him. Indeed, they are.
THE BURNING ROOM introduces a new character to the Bosch canon in the persona of Detective Lucia “Lucky Lucy” Soto, who has no homicide experience but is nonetheless paired with Bosch in the Open-Unsolved Unit as a result of a newly instituted department policy. The pairing gets their trial by fire when they’re given a highly publicized case. Ten years previously, a mariachi musician was struck by a bullet while performing on a city plaza. The injury paralyzed him. When, in the present, he dies as a direct and proximate cause of his gunshot wound, it becomes a murder investigation. While not strictly a cold case, Bosch and Soto snatch it up and pursue the cold trail.
What follows is another element that makes the Bosch books as great and as popular as they are: the manner in which Connelly goes into the nooks and crannies of an investigation and shows the reader how the job is done. Bosch and Soto begin with the bullet, which leads to the type of firearm used in the assault, and from there use everything from modern enhancements of the (relatively) primitive video recordings of a decade ago to long-archived hotel records. Their conclusion is that the shooting, long thought to be random, was anything but. As they follow a trail that was all but non-existent even when the crime was fresh, Bosch slowly discovers that the trail leads him and his new partner directly into a potential political nightmare.
Meanwhile, Soto’s “hobby” investigation of another cold case --- a tragic arson fire to which she has a personal tie --- takes the team to the porous and dangerous southern border of California, where they discover a tie-in between a deadly apartment fire, an unsolved robbery, and one of Los Angeles’s most infamous police-involved firefights. By the end of the book, all but one of the questions concerning the two investigations are answered: What happens next?
I did not anticipate the ending, even as Connelly dropped subtle and ironic breadcrumbs throughout the narrative. Never fear: the novel is complete in itself, but longtime readers will anticipate the next Harry Bosch installment as they have no other. No peeking now. Whether you are new to the series, a veteran reader, or somewhere in between, you will want to sink your teeth into THE BURNING ROOM.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 6, 2014