The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

The Burning RoomThe Burning Room

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #19

Mass Market Paperback, 459 pg.
Vision, 2015

Read: November 16 – 18, 2015

Harry Bosch is in the last few months of his career with the LAPD — he’s about to be forced to retire again, and there’ll be no coming back from this one. He’s at peace with this — as much as he can be. It helps that he’s training rookie Detective Lucia Soto. Soto wants to learn from him (which distinguishes her from a lot of his former partners) and seems to want to do things the way Bosch does — it’s about results, not politics; shoe leather, not (just) computer work — everyone matters. If Harry can replace himself with someone like her, he’ll go happily.

There are two cases that Bosch is focusing on this time out — one officially so, the other on his own. The official case has a lot of press, a lot of attention from inside and outside the LAPD from the Chief all the way down. It’s an odd cold case, too. The victim just died, from complications of a bullet lodged in his back almost a decade ago. From the initial findings to the end, nothing turns out to be anything like it was assumed in the initial investigation when he was shot. Great, twisty case.

Connelly spends more effort on the other case, which ends up giving the novel its title. It dates back to about the same time, but isn’t actually assigned to Bosch and Soto initially. It’s been a long time Hobby Case of Soto’s, though and she recruits Bosch to help — which he does, to keep her out of trouble and to continue her development. The case is an old arson investigation, the building that was set on fire was an old apartment building that also housed an unlicensed day care. Nine children died in the fire, and it’s haunted the neighborhood since. A much more complicated case — made the moreso by the two working it off-book.

Harry’s not fighting corruption in the ranks or City Hall this time — his targets may be close to power (and some are about as far from it as you can get), but that’s it. As much as I enjoyed the forever long feud with Irving, I’m glad to see some variety. No corruption to fight — just bureaucratic timetables and peevishness. That’s bad enough for anyone.

Whether we’re talking Iggy Ferras, David Chu, Kiz Rider, Jerry Edgar or any of the other partners Harry’s worked with, it’s safe to say, most of them haven’t been great matches. Kiz came close (Edgar did, too, in a way — they knew how to work together, mostly). This is probably the best relationship Harry’s had with a partner — not his equal, but with almost the same drive. And she knows she needs Harry’s lectures (which most of the others didn’t need or want), she wants to hear them — she even asks for his feedback and critique. Even without this, Soto’s got it going on, her strengths supplement and/or complement Harry’s. I wish they had more time together — although Harry’s lessons might start to grate on her if they spent more than several months together, see the above list of ex-partners.

While the partner/partner dynamic hasn’t always been idyllic, you can usually count on a healthy father-daughter interaction — or at least attempts on both of their parts at it. There wasn’t that much Harry and Maddie material in this one — but what was there was . . . okay. I wonder if Connelly is preparing for a spin-off series starring Maddie, or if he’ll hand that off to someone else to do.

I’m not entirely satisfied — nor are we supposed to be — with the way both cases resolved, but they did so in a way that Harry can be proud of. Much more he has a legacy to pass down –both to Maddie and to Det. Soto. You also know that Harry’ll be one of those retired cops who’ll be quick to return a call from someone in the future looking for help on an old case.

A good Bosch, not great, but solid and satisfying. Killer last scene, even if it made me think of Sutton Foster playing Harry in a very special episode of Bosch. Good ’nuff for me.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

The Gods of GuiltThe Gods of Guilt

by Michael Connelly
Series: Mickey Haller, #5

Mass Market Paperback, 464 pg.
Vision, 2014
Read: January 1 – 6, 2015

Getting a not-guilty verdict was a long shot. Even when you knew in your gut that you were sitting next to an innocent man at the defense table, you also knew that the NGs came grudgingly from a system designed only to deal with the guilty.

Which is why most novels about lawyers are about defense lawyers — there’s more drama when they win (Mickey’s cynicism/realism also says something about our judicial system — but that’s a matter for another kind of blog). Note how little time Rachel Knight, the prosecutor, spends in court in her novels.

But from Perry Mason to Ben Matlock to Andy Carpenter to the real life attorneys, we want to read about and watch defense attorneys. We want to see them work within (and outside) the system, up to the point where the jury, the “Gods of Guilt” decide the fate of the defendant. Sometimes these “Gods” choose correctly, sometimes not. We rarely think of the consequences of these verdicts — in fiction, we almost never see them.

This novel is practically all about those consequences — and the events spiraling out of them. Almost a decade ago, Mickey Haller used some information one of his client’s possessed to get her a good deal. Which worked out nicely for all concerned (except the guy she had the information about), until she winds up dead — after telling her accused killer that if he’s in legal trouble, Mickey Haller is the only name to call.

Mickey’s dealing with some more immediate consequences — a man he successfully defended went on to get drunk and run down an innocent mother and child. Mickey’s blamed for this — which derails his D.A. campaign and derails his relationship with his daughter (who knew one of the victims).

So, when Mickey is presented with a prospective client he believes is innocent, he grabs at the chance for a little public and familial redemption. But before these “Gods” can weigh in, there’s a long road to be walked, prices to pay, deals to be made, and secrets to uncover.

I’d forgotten how slow these books start — Connelly’s masterful and putting the pieces together in a way that makes the ending seem inevitable — once you get there. But man, at times the build up can bog you down. Sure, there were other things going on — but it took me 3 days to get through the first 200-250 pages, and then 1 day for the next 150-200, because as slow as things start — when it all starts to come together, it’s a smooth and fast ride.

Aside from the twisty and tricky plot, is, of course, character — which is really what brings readers back to this kind of series. And there’s a lot to think about in this one.

For one, there’s the new character, David “Legal” Siegel, Mickey’s father’s law partner. He’s living in a fairly totalitarian retirement home (probably for good reason, not that Legal or Mickey seem to care), but still has fantastic defense instincts and helps Mickey and his associate, Jennifer Aronson, with some of their more clever strategies. He’s a fun addition to the cast, and I hope to see more of him.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with Jennifer Aronson’s characterization. I don’t care how new she is to the whole criminal defense thing, there’s no way that someone with any kind of experience — or a TV — needs to have the concept of “burner phone” explained. I get that Jennifer Aronson needs to have some things explained to her — and the reader via Aronson — but c’mon, really? Still, it’s good to see Mickey mentoring someone, and having someone else in the firm to do some legwork does open up narrative possibilities for future novels. Although, Mickey keeps talking about Aronson leaving him and being more successful than him — is this Connelly setting up a spin-off series?

Cisco, Earl, Lorna 2 and Maggie were along as well — nothing both notable and not-spoilery to say about them. They played their narrative roles well, and as they should. There’s a notable exception to this, but can’t talk about it now.

Naturally, the focus is on Micky Haller, in the courtroom (and associated areas), he’s a shark. He’s a pro. He’s a wiz. And he knows it — which sometimes makes you groan, other times you relish it. Connelly’s honest enough to make Mickey’s confidence come back to bite him — it happened once during this trial, and even though I pretty much saw it coming, I still gave him a sympathetic wince. There was another point where I was actually talking back to the book, begging Mickey not to be so cocky. Fairly sure that things were going so well for him that he would screw things up with a witness/suspect.

As (almost) always, his personal life is in shambles. Mickey’s relationship with his daughter, Hayley, is always one of the more endearing aspects of this series, and to see the estrangement between them is rough. Connelly isn’t a guy that typically gets emotional reactions (other than suspense, and satisfaction from victory) from a reader — but Mickey having to covertly watch his daughter’s soccer practice through binoculars? No way that doesn’t tug on a heart string (while you hope no one catches him in the act and thinks he’s some sort of predator).

Throughout The Gods of Guilt there’s a Palpable sense of loneliness to Mickey, he’s always looking for people to be watching him in court. Thanks to the election loss, the DUI, etc. people’s perceptions of him are really damaged, really negative. All Mickey wants is someone, anyone really, to see him doing well, to see him doing something good. Sure, it’s better if it’s someone he cares about seeing him do that, however, and he’s always looking for it.

Naturally, things wrap up in a satisfying manner, and then we’re treated to one of the best closing paragraphs that Connelly’s written (if not the best, and he’s written too many of them for this lazy blogger to verify). The last four paragraphs cement in the reader’s mind just what kind of person the Lincoln Lawyer really is beneath the headlines, the courtroom antics, and the car.

A slow-burn of a read, like I said, but once you reach the tipping point, the reader is hanging on every word — just like the jury, Mickey’s Gods of Guilt are to the drama unfolding before them.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

FaceOff by David Baldacci, ed.

FaceOffFaceOff

by David Baldacci

Hardcover, 384 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Read: July 15-25, 2014

When I was a kid, one of the go-to moves to increase circulation/awareness of a comic book title was to have it cross-over with another title. Or if you had two already well-selling titles, and you wanted a little spike in the selling, that’d work, too (particularly if one title was from DC and the other from Marvel). I, as I was supposed to, grabbed a lot of these. They tended to follow a pattern — Group/Individual A runs into Group/Individual B, for no explicable reason they start to fight. Eventually, they figure out they’re all heroes fighting for good and turn their collective energies to defeating the bad guys. This was fine, because it let you see who would win in a fight — Thor or Superman (answer: neither), Halo or Starfire — that kind of thing.

That’s what a lot of these stories reminded me of — classic cross-over tales, and many fit that pattern. Which was okay, but thankfully not all of them did. At the end of the day, there were 2 stories I wanted to read, a couple of others that I was somewhat interested in, and the rest — well, might as well take a look at them, as long as I had the book. I picked up a couple of new names to try — and a couple to avoid. All in all, this was a mixed bag.

    Some specific thoughts:

  • Red Eye by Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane (Harry Bosch vs. Patrick Kenzie)
    This first story was the primary motivation for me to get my hands on this book. Two of my all-time, personal Hall of Fame characters together. The story was a bit . . . meh. The criminal was definitely in the wheelhouse for both Kenzie and Bosch, but it was a little too easy to find him — and once the two detectives decided to work together, the solution was a bit too quick and easy (yet just the kind of ending that I could see either character coming up with on their own — so together it absolutely made sense). I’m pretty sure (without taking the time to verify) that this was the shortest story in the collection, and it needed at least another 10 pages to be satisfactory. Still, I’m putting this down as a winner.
  • In the Nick of Time by Ian Rankin and Peter James (John Rebus vs. Roy Grace)
    This was so dull, so predictable, no actual detective work was done here — all of it happened “off screen” so to speak. Maybe, maybe if you liked Rebus or Grace on their own, this would appeal to you. But even then, yawn.
  • Gaslighted by R.L. Stine, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child (Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy vs. Aloysius Pendergast)
    I think you’d need a lot more familiarity with these characters (particularly Pendergast) to enjoy this one — really to understand it all.
  • The Laughing Buddha by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner (Malachai Samuels vs. D.D. Warren)
    Okay, after two novels and now one short story, I still don’t see what D. D. Warren brings to anything. Did she do much at all here? It was an interesting enough story, and if I hadn’t spent so much time waiting for Warren to do something, I might have enjoyed it more. Then again, I’m not sure how much I can buy the whole setup for Samuels’ character.
  • Surfing the Panther by Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein (Paul Madriani vs. Alexandra Cooper)
    Neither one of these lawyer characters appeared all that terribly interesting — but the crime in question, the way it was presented, and the solution to it? That made this one worthwhile. Very clever stuff (even if, again, most of the action took place off-screen).
  • Rhymes With Prey by Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford (Lincoln Rhyme vs. Lucas Davenport)
    Early on in the story, I jotted in my notes, “What this story really needs are more unfamiliar characters whose names start with an ‘L’.” But once I got past that, it was probably the most complex and compelling story in the book and the most likely to provoke further reading — I’m interested in following up with both series. Not sure it’ll happen soon, but it’ll happen.
  • Infernal Night by Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson (Michael Quinn vs. Repairman Jack)
    Doubt I’ll misquote the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” line again, because like Repairman Jack, I “just like to get things right.” After reading the introduction, I wasn’t at all interested in these characters. But the story intrigued me, and I’m pretty sure I’ll check out both series. I have one friend I really see getting into Repairman Jack. The story was creepy and cool. And slightly predictable. But still, creepy and cool.
  • Pit Stop by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay (Sean Reilly vs. Glen Garber)
    Perfect start to this kind of story – – killer first sentence, and the closing sentence of the first section is almost as compelling. The ending wasn’t as good as wanted it to be, but it seemed like they needed an easy ending or another fifty pages — so easy ending, it had to be. The stuff in the middle was pretty fun. Garber’s daughter is the coolest little girl this side of space/time constraints. Garner’s daughter is the coolest little girl this side of Flavia de Luce.
  • Silent Hunt by John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker (Wyatt Hunt vs. Joe Trona)
    A couple of law enforcement guys on fishing vacations. Didn’t do much for me — my guess is that fans of Hunt and Trona would probably enjoy this, like I did with Bosch and Kenzie. More for the experience of seeing the two together rather than for the strength of this pretty tired tale.
  • The Devil’s Bones by Steve Berry and James Rollins (Cotton Malone vs. Gray Pierce)
    The way their target talked was the only false note in this action-packed story. And man, oh man, was it false. But the action, the interplay between Malone and Pierece, the story, everything else worked really, really well. One of the best things in this book.
  • Good and Valuable Consideration by Lee Child and Joseph Finder (Jack Reacher vs. Nick Heller)
    I’ve never read Finder before, but probably will now (of any in this book, he’ll probably be first). I loved this one, it may not be the best-written story in the collection, but it’s my favorite. Funny (very), yet true to Reacher’s almost-never funny character (and I assume also true to Heller’s). The banter and cooperation between the two was great. The way they came to a consensus without speaking about how to help the poor guy they met in the bar brought a smile to my face. It was a decent story, too, but one of those that didn’t have to be, because the character work was so fun. It was the perfect thing to close this with.

So again, your results may vary — but overall, a worthwhile read — some real highs, and some moderate lows. Good fodder for a TBR list.

—–

3 Stars

Dusted Off: The Drop by Michael Connelly

The DropThe Drop

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #17

Paperback, 448 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2012
Read: Jun. 23-25, 2012

How does he do it? How does someone as accomplished as Connelly continually top himself? Equaling himself would be a tough act (and not one he always pulls off), but topping himself? Inhuman.

This was gripping (duh). This was harrowing (duh). The suspense was there, the intrigue was thick (duh). What was shown about the human condition should cause anyone to reflect (duh). All of that is par for the course for Connelly and Harry Bosch.

But this one…the depravity, Harry’s reaction to it–not just the bad guys, but the politics surrounding the cases…hit harder than normal. You can really feel for Bosch in this one, you can curse his mistakes (and even the right things he did that don’t feel so right), but the closing chapters carry a kind of emotional weight that Bosch novels normally don’t.

This is Connelly at his best. Looking forward to the next time he tops himself.

—–

5 Stars

Dusted Off: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

The Fifth WitnessThe Fifth Witness

by Michael Connelly
Series: Mickey Haller, #4

Mass Market Paperback, 448 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2011
Read: May 8-9, 2012

When we finally got to the trial portion of this novel (the rest is just foreplay, anyway, right?) I found myself thinking–could Perry Mason have handled this D.A.? (and conversely, what fun it would be to watch Hamilton Burger try to deal with Mickey [and yes, I remembered Burger’s name despite it being 2 decades since I’ve read an Erle Stanley Gardner novel, don’t ask how]). That’s just how good Haller is–at the end of the day, he’s better than the Gold Standard.

A tense mystery, dazzling courtroom tactics (on both sides), a client and supporting cast that add rather than detract from the main characters and an ending you really can’t see coming. That’s just the kind of writer Michael Connelly is, a guy at the top of his game.

I’m not sure that I’m totally on board with the direction that Mickey is headed in at the end of the book, but I’m confident it’ll take no more than 15 pages of the next installment for Connelly to convince me.

—–

4 Stars

The Black Box by Michael Connelly

The Black Box
The Black Box

by Michael Connelly
Series: Harry Bosch, #18

Paperback, 480 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2013

There are few mystery series as satisfying as the Harry Bosch novels (those who’ve read the last couple of “Saturday Miscellany” posts have probably noticed my geeking out about the Bosch pilot for Amazon). Whenever a new paperback comes out, I grab it as soon as I can, and post a “Go Away, I’m Reading” sign*. I can’t get enough of this guy.

A while back, Connelly moved Harry to the Open-Unsolved Unit, which was a very smart move that’s paid off in variety of cases and gives an extra edge to Harry’s cases — he’s always been obsessive about giving resolution to the victim’s families and loved ones, but now it’s also about justice delayed, about being able to start getting past years — decades even — of pain.

Harry’s got a personal connection to the cold case he’s focusing on this time — during the riots that broke out after the Rodney King verdict, Harry and his partner were called out on a series of homicides. One in particular was a white woman in an alley, shot execution-style. Before being forced to go to the next victim, they were only able to spend about half an hour looking over the crime scene and finding practically no evidence that wasn’t contaminated. As with many other homicides over those few days, this one remained unsolved. But for the 20th anniversary of the riots, all these cases are being looked at again, in hopes of garnering some good PR for the LAPD.

Naturally, the only case that Harry (or pretty much anyone else) finds the most traction on involves a white woman — and Harry starts being pressured by his lieutenant and some even higher to hold off on the investigation for a few months. Naturally, Harry doesn’t take well to that and does what he can to solve this case once and for all. There’s a lot of luck involved in Harry uncovering what he needs here — but that’s the beauty of routine and thorough investigative work — you end up creating your own luck.

Meanwhile, Harry has to deal with a politically-motivated Professional Standards Bureau (Internal Affairs) investigation into a perfectly legitimate activity. The good news for Harry is that the investigator assigned to the case is as driven and thorough as he is. The bad news is that means she’ll be a persistent interference in his life until she uncovers the truth — and that’s the last thing Harry can tolerate.

Of course, there’s a good storyline featuring Harry’s daughter, Maddie. He’s still new to the “Dad” scene, and makes more mistakes with her than he can tolerate — it’s tough enough being a father to a teenage girl, but when the girl is dropped on you because her mother was murdered and you have to be a parent for the first time? You’ve already got 2 strikes on you. As almost superhuman as he is as a cop, as a father? Harry’s very human. It’s good to see.

And if he’s human as a father, as a romantic interest? You have to feel sorry for Hannah Stone, his current main squeeze. Harry’s practically inept. Still, it’s a good storyline, and I’m glad to see that Harry hasn’t blow it (yet) with Hannah.

If you’ve never read Connelly before — the guy can make a trip to a food truck to grab some tacos into a thriller. So he has no problem making a 20 year-old unsolved murder into an edge-of-your-seat experience. You don’t need to have read the previous 15 books in this series to appreciate this one — jump in, the water’s more than fine.

—–

*Not literally, but my kids can attest that my expression conveys that message effectively.

—–

4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 6/29

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

      This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

    • Blade Reforged by Kelly McCullough. Y’know, I think I’m a book behind in this series. Whoops!
    • Hunted by Kevin Hearne. So excited about that one that I already posted the review.

    Light week, but it’s something.