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02 October 2014

Michael Connelly: The Burning Room

Michael Connelly maintains the momentum
This is #17 in Michael Connelly's best selling Harry Bosch series and certainly maintains the momentum of the others. At this time in a series many best-selling writers are opting for extreme and unbelievable plots to maintain the momentum. Connelly avoids this by doing what he does best - writing an excellent book about top-class police investigations.

The first case is unusual because the victim died nearly ten years after he had been shot. One day Orlando Merced had been waiting in Mariachi Plaza for a gig for his Mariachi band when he was shot, with the bullet lodging in an inoperable part of his spine. After many years of pain, including amputations to lessen the effect of lead poisoning, Merced died, allowing access to the only real clue available - the bullet. There had been no leads in this "cold case" which is politically sensitive because a mayoral candidate, later mayor, had used Merced in his wheelchair in his campaigns as a symbol of neglect suffered by the community of East LA.

Harry Bosch is in his last year as a detective under the DROP scheme (The Deferred Retirement Option Plan) and is still working every case energetically and diligently as if it was his last. Of course that means working the case in his own way which frequently gets the ire of his superiors.

LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit has just shuffled the pack of detectives and Bosch, the oldest one, is partnered with  the youngest, twenty eight year old rookie Mexican American Detective Lucia Soto. Lucy is not really a rookie as she was the survivor of a shootout with four gunmen where her street-cop partner was killed, and she shot and killed two of the gunmen and bravely held the others at bay in an alley until the SWAT team arrived. Bosch soon finds that Soto is a quick learner and has many of the investigative and intuitive talents that have made Bosch such a brilliant detective. They strike up a strong professional relationship and I wouldn't be surprised to see Lucy featuring in future books in this series.

The bullet taken from Merced gives the first leads in this case for years and Bosch and Soto start to find clues that suggests that the shooting may not have been random. As they track down years-old information the complex and sensitive background to the shooting and the shooter slowly gets revealed.

Bosch soon discovers that Lucy Soto has a personal interest in another cold case - the Bonnie Brae apartment fire twenty years ago when nine people, mostly children, died in an unlicensed child care centre in the basement of the complex - viz "The Burning Room". The case was labeled arson but no suspects could be found. Unofficially Bosch helps her with this case, which at first sight has as few clues left over the years as the Merced affair.

Bosch and Soto work well together and start to gain momentum on both cases, despite the length of time that has elapsed. While both cases come to unexpected conclusions Connelly leaves us with another even more unexpected finale.

Bosch aficionados may be disappointed that this book hardly touches on his private life. He is proud but worried that his daughter Maddie is planning to be a cop and there is a cameo appearance by FBI agent Rachel Walling who Bosch asks for some information. There is a possible romantic lead for the future that he really can't pursue while he is still a cop. I would not be surprised to see Maddie as a cop featuring in future books in this series.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has followed Harry Bosch over the years or to anyone wanting to read a great police/crime novel by "the finest (American) crime writer working today". I look forward to seeing where Michael Connelly takes the next book in this iconic series.

My great thanks to The Reading Room and the Australian publisher for an advanced copy of this book which will be published on 3 November 2014.

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