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the burning room

18 june 2017

I'm three years behind on reading Michael Connelly. I don't buy his books new; as I've probably said here several times before, I wait till I see them in thrift stores, but they get there slowly and unreliably, particularly now in the age of the e-book. For all I know, Harry Bosch is now uncomfortably not-enjoying a well-earned retirement. But in The Burning Room, he is consciously approaching the end of his career, and actively training his replacement.

Harry teams with Lucia Soto, a rising star in the LAPD. She's the hero of a shootout with gang members that left her patrol partner dead. As a reward of sorts, she's assigned to Open-Unsolved, the cold-case murder unit. Or at least the one that exists in the Harry Bosch novels. Bosch and Soto's first case is the delayed-action murder of a mariachi musician shot many years before in a seemingly random event in a public plaza. Could the killing of Orlando Merced be linked to a web of sexual jealousy, political corruption, and murder for hire?

Meanwhile, Soto seems to have a personal agenda. She nearly died in an arson fire that killed many of her day-care classmates decades earlier, and those murders too are open and unsolved. And they may relate to armed robbery and white supremacists, and they certainly threaten to absorb her time and energy, diverting her attention from the Merced shooting. As so often, Harry, an inveterate loner, is both drawn to, and highly suspicious of, any detective he's partnered with.

Not drawn to sexually, I hasten to add. It wouldn't be a Harry Bosch novel if Harry wasn't a little drawn to some new romantic possibility, but he's old enough to be Soto's father, and he's now living with his own daughter Maddy, who aspires to be a cop like Soto. I like the fact that Connelly can create a macho hero in late middle age who doesn't have to be a magnet for the desires of nubile young women. Instead, Harry is drawn to the just-turned-50 Ginny Skinner, a journalist who offers the additional attraction of playing with fire – cops and reporters, in Connelly's world, are natural deadly enemies.

Bosch and Soto work their parallel cases together and make more progress in a few days than the entire law-enforcement establishment had made in man-decades, naturally. They also cut corners: Harry likes that about Lucy, that she seems a throwback to the days when you harrassed witnesses and stole evidence. They do lots of things that are illegal, but nothing morally objectionable; as always with Connelly, there's an undertone that the rules are in place solely to help the guilty get away.

At one point they make a hideously lethal mistake which, even as it's happening, you know is incredibly stupid. ("I fucked up," is Harry's self-assessment.) And at one point the brass takes away Harry's badge and gun. ("I've been down this road a few times," he tells Lucy.) Ah, well, as Harry also says at some point, nobody bats a thousand.

Connelly, Michael. The Burning Room. New York: Little, Brown [Hachette], 2014.