Written by Michael Connelly — There’s many a crime novel which begins in a mortuary, as the coroner works on a body and uncovers a vital clue that ultimately solves the case. Never before, though, have I encountered an autopsy that is in response to a cold case. In truth, Orlando Merced was a dead man walking. Ever since being hit in a supposed gang-related shooting 10 years ago, the mariachi musician had been paraplegic with various health problems eventually leading to amputation of both legs and even his instrument playing arm.
Orlando was also wheeled out periodically to support the campaign of would-be Mayor Armando Zeyas, often wearing the blood stained shirt from the fateful day his life was shattered. Now the bullet lodged in his spine has killed him, and gubernatorial hopeful Zeyas is once more using Merced’s plight as a campaign tool.
Due to Zeyas and his political machinations, Merced’s death is headline news, and in the midst of the media whirlpool is LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, but as followers of his story in 18 previous outings will know, Harry and press conferences just do not mix. Lucky, then, that he has a new partner in the Open-Unsolved Unit. And, like Harry, she has a history. Lucy Soto may be a rookie detective, but she is also a decorated officer. Lucy hit the headlines after a shoot-out with armed robbers at a liquor store in which her partner died. She killed two of the robbers and single-handedly held the others at gunpoint until backup arrived – a feat which earned her the Medal of Valor.
So the girl has guts, but does she have what it takes to be a detective? At first Bosch isn’t too sure, but as they pool resources to take another look at the Merced case, it is the burgeoning trust and understanding between the pair that shines through at the heart of this book. Lucy is a fluent Spanish speaker, something which comes in very handy as they begin to track down people who was there on the day Merced was shot. She is also tenacious, committed and quick to learn, but when Harry finds her illicitly copying case files from another cold case being handled by colleagues, he begins to wonder if he can really place his trust in his new partner.
The answer to that conundrum adds another facet to a story which is already multi-layered and will eventually lead the pair on a previously untrodden path, which may or may not lead to the truth. That’s the great thing about cold case work – once the pace hots up, you never know where the investigation will take you, so what starts out as a review of a random killing soon transforms into something much, much bigger. Bosch, a seasoned detective nearing enforced retirement and Soto, an untested team member, will both be pushed to the limit of their abilities before this case can come to any satisfactory conclusion.
The offerings of some series authors do eventually become predictable and formulaic but there is no sign of writing by numbers here; I take my hat off to Connelly for keeping up the momentum after all this time. The Burning Room is a fine piece of work. Whether you’ve been with Harry since day one, or are coming to Connelly cold, it is a novel which will satisfy, thrill and entertain.
The Burning Room is released on 6 November.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars