‘The Burning Room’’ finds Michael Connelly’s veteran detective Harry Bosch on the cusp of a stock-taking moment: With retirement looming, it’s potentially his last year on the force, a circumstance he anticipates with a tinge of apprehension and more than a whiff of nostalgia: “To him, every day he had left on the job was golden. The hours were like diamonds — as valuable as anything on earth.’’
But Bosch doesn’t have much time to sigh, navel-gaze, or dillydally around. He’s got his hands full with a rookie partner to train, a new cold case to crack, and a fresh fatherly experience as daughter Maddie is hitting her dating years.
The cold case is a doozy, a 10-year-old shooting that has recently turned into a homicide. Back in 2004, someone fired a gun, its bullet lodging inextricably in the spine of a mariachi band member, Orlando Merced, as he sat waiting for a potential gig; Merced had lived with the bullet inside him until, as “The Burning Room’’ opens, he finally dies of complications from that injury. In digging out the bullet at long last, the coroner’s office hands Bosch a fresh way to pursue — and ideally close — the old case.
Bosch’s partner, Lucia Soto, is part of a new crew of what the police old-timers are cutely referring to as the “Mod Squad”: young officers full of ambition, vim, and vigor (though also a little wet behind the ears). In contending with Soto, a relatively inexperienced investigator — though she’s no slouch when it comes to her listening-and-learning skills — Bosch has to wonder: Can he trust his new partner to pull her weight, or is this a baby-sitting job? Is it even, perhaps, that the department might be trying to push him out early?
By the time the book’s action ramps up — on Connelly’s authorial timeline, this means no time at all — Bosch and Soto’s pursuits entangle them in a long-ago bank robbery, a fatal fire involving an unofficial child-care center, a dodgy Mexican bar in Tulsa, Okla., a cunningly hidden stash of firearms and, even, yes, a nunnery. As an added aggravation, there’s a particularly annoying department suit who seems to be vying to be the largest pain ever in Bosch’s backside.
Bosch works the case, relishing the new technological abilities of the Video Forensics Unit while still fervently appreciating the old standbys of police and city archives — and he’s not above picking department locks to get at files when he needs them. Connelly ratchets up the clues, throwing out multiple pieces of distinct puzzles and allowing Bosch the pleasure, usually with some good jazz in the background, of mulling over which pieces fit together. And while he can channel Dragnet’s “just the facts, ma’am” Joe Friday like nobody’s business when he wants to keep a suspect interview on the straight and narrow, Bosch is ever the romantic at heart, both wistful and hopeful, wondering whether “there was still a chance for him, that he could still find whatever it was he was looking for, no matter how short his time was.”
While Connelly doesn’t overdo the end-of-career contemplations, several philosophical moments emerge, one when Bosch finds himself perched atop Mulholland Drive at night, overlooking the City of Angels, and musing on murderers, “the ultimate narcissists who think that the world revolves around only them. He wondered how many were out there among the billion lights that glowed up at him through the haze.”
A fine balancing act between thought and action on Bosch’s part, “The Burning Room” offers a nuanced, nicely-honed performance from Connelly as well.