Book Review: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

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Apart from Michael Connelly’s 2015 release, The Crossing, I’ve read every single one of his novels (and I’ll eventually read The Crossing, too, when I get around to it). Connelly’s greatest attribute is his consistency. His books are consistently well-written. His characters are consistently interesting and consistently but appropriately flawed – just enough so that we know they’re on the good side of the good-bad divide but that they’re willing to explore their bad side if it means achieving the right result. And his plots are consistently logical with crimes that are consistently solvable.

I suppose the problem with all that consistency is that if you’ve read all of Connelly’s books, like I have, there’s little chance of being surprised.

The Burning Room finds Harry Bosch still working in the Open Unsolved Unit, this time with a new, young partner, Lucia Soto, who has distinguished herself by shooting dead two robbers and pinning down two others until back-up arrived after her former partner was shot dead in the exchange. She was celebrated in the media and given the choice of working in any department she wanted; she chose the Open Unsolved Unit.

But Lucia has never worked homicide before so she is paired with Harry, the unit’s most experienced detective, in order to learn the ropes and quickly. There is quite a bit of lecturing from Harry while they investigate an unusual cold case. Unusual in that even though the crime occurred ten years ago, the victim only died in the last week. Orlando Merced was shot in an apparent drive-by but survived more than ten years with a bullet in his spine. Along the way, he became a celebrated anti-crime activist and when the coroner rules that it was the shooting that ultimately killed him, despite the length of time that has elapsed, the case falls into Bosch and Soto’s laps.

After Orlando’s death, they are finally able to retrieve the bullet from his body where it had remained since the shooting, unable to be removed without causing significant further damage. It’s the lead they needed and the detectives follow a very slow, very winding path to identifying why he was shot and by who.

The problem with having Harry work in the Open Unsolved Unit is that there is no sense of urgency to the crimes he is trying to solve. He and Lucia end up working another cold case at the same time and they solve both but most of those involved are dead and unable to be held to account for their crimes.

Connelly has almost written his main character into a corner. Harry’s getting old. It’s only a year until he retires and it’s almost like he’s treading water. He’s long since stopped evolving or having epiphanies of any description. After all, Connelly has another character and another series for that, with Mickey Haller of Lincoln Lawyer fame.

At one point during the novel, Harry mentions that he doesn’t watch television or movies in the crime genre because they are all so obsessed with neat finishes where everybody gets their man and there’s a sense of resolution and closure. It’s just so unrealistic, he despairs. It’s probably true. The problem is that we don’t read crime fiction in order to get a dose of realism. We want well-plotted stories with motivated characters on both sides of the criminal divide and exciting stories that build to climactic endings.

Instead, what Harry (and Connelly) is giving us are crimes with stereotypical motivations and because he’s Harry Bosch, old school fool, there’s always a moment thrown in that sees him in trouble with the potential of again being thrown out of the force for what he considers minor indiscretions but the department considers a clear case of breaking the rules. Why does Harry never learn? Perhaps because he keeps getting away with it.

The most interesting character in the book is Harry’s daughter, Maddie. She appears only sporadically because Harry all but ignores her as he does his job during business hours and after hours. But she’s a crack shot as a sporting shooter, she’s involved in Meals on Wheels as well as the police Explorers, doing ride-alongs on the police beat and helping in underage stings, she’s going on dates (which Harry hates), and she’s doing well at school with the current intention of joining the police force just like her dad.

There’s nothing especially wrong with this book but there’s nothing especially interesting about it either. If it wasn’t for the presence of Harry Bosch, and all the cachet he brings with him, it would be considered just another crime novel. And since I don’t care about Harry’s cachet, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just another crime novel.

Connelly has been pretty consistent (there’s that word again) at producing a novel a year and considering Harry only has a year until he will retire, I guess that means one more book to send this beloved character off on a high (unless, of course, it just goes on and on and on until Harry’s solving nursing home mysteries like some kind of sad, male Miss Marple). I’ll continue reading Connelly’s books but I’m hoping for something in the next book that sees him resting less on the laurels of his characters and relying more on the reinvigoration of the stories that involve them.

3 stars

*First published on Goodreads 24 October 2015

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