Book review: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 November, 2014, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 November, 2014, 11:11pm

The Burning Room
by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown

Politics often seeps into police investigations, especially when a high-profile case has officials from the city to the state level jockeying for a piece of the action.

LAPD detective Harry Bosch has seen enough of politics interfering with his investigations through the years. Now, as he supposedly enters the last year of his career, Bosch is even more tired of this intrusion that erupts constantly in The Burning Room, the excellent 17th novel in Michael Connelly's superb series.

This latest book excels as a look at how power, prestige and the media can override the best intentions. Connelly also weaves in a bit of the immigrant experience that helped shape - and continues to mould - the City of Angels.

But Bosch, as Connelly has shown in novel after novel, refuses to let his mission of uncovering the truth about a crime be altered by others. This time, Bosch and his new partner, Lucia "Lucy" Soto, are handed a case that has attracted attention for a decade.

Mariachi musician Orlando Merced was shot 10 years ago in the middle of a busy plaza, becoming the living symbol of urban violence and a campaign slogan for Armando Zeyas, who became a popular Los Angeles city councilman.

Now, however, the paralysed Merced has finally died, prompting the Open-Unsolved Unit - the official name for the cold case department - to reopen the case.

If Bosch and Soto can find a match to the bullet, which has been lodged in the musician's spine all these years, they might be able to find the murderer.

The demand for a quick solution starts with Bosch's LAPD boss who is being pressured by Zeyas, now the frontrunner to be the city's next mayor. The case leads the partners on a trek through the poorest and wealthiest neighbourhoods in the city. They link the shooting to the arson of an apartment building in which several children died, and a bank robbery.

One of the pleasures of a Connelly novel is how he immerses the reader in the minutiae of a police procedural, making the most mundane aspects of an investigation exciting.

Since his 1992 debut The Black Echo, Connelly has revealed more of Bosch's psyche with each novel. The detective has taken a deferred retirement and is in the last year of his job. But will he fight to stay with the LAPD, or has he grown so tired of the politics - both external and within the department - that he will welcome retirement?

Soto further energises The Burning Room, as the veteran detective relishes being her mentor and showing her how the LAPD works, and fails. Soto makes mistakes, but she also shows she has the insight and the grit to make it as a detective.

Even if Bosch leaves the LAPD, a year can result in several novels and, as he has proved before, Connelly still has much to explore in Bosch's personal growth.