Book Review: City of Bones, by Michael Connelly. Grand Central Publishing. Hachette Book Group. ©2002. $10
Blurbs on books are worthless. Honestly, the accolades plastered across paperbacks are pointless. “Sizzles with energy,” “Invigorating,” “Haunting,” do not accurately assess procedural crime fiction novels like City of Bones. I’m not taking anything away from Mr. Connelly or any of his of novels based on Michael “Mickey” Haller (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) or Hieronymus Bosch. Procedural crime is notoriously boring. Anyone who has watched “The First 48” on A&E should have a sense the job of an investigative detective working for any homicide unit in any major city is not exciting work. A lot of time is spent being a phone jockey, calling lawyers, family members, friends, making appointments to meet and talk. Some time is spent being a keyboard jockey, typing names and search criteria into national criminal databases and doing background work.
Some readers might be bored with the mundane details part and parcel of homicide investigations; they want “Miami Vice”-esque chases, guns, people getting shot. They want troubled cops with drinking problems going rogue, throwing years of training out the window, Riggs-style (“Lethal Weapon”), and bashing the perp’s head in. If these traits interest you, another author might be better suited.
What Mr. Connelly does well is capture the reader’s attention through Bosch’s adversarial relationships with superiors and other internal police divisions, his close-knit relationships with his partners, and his perseverance and tenacity on homicide cases. Life isn’t nice-and-tidy, and neither Bosch nor Connelly are working under any premise of every story must have a happy ending. This one sure doesn’t. However, reading Bosch one should get the notion detective work requires consider human contact. A detective must work with seasoned beat officers, “boots,” new cops fresh from training, psychologists who must remain vigilant for stress in career officers. Additionally, anytime an officer fires a weapon, an “Officer Involved Shooting,” all sorts of bureaucracy activates. Connelly, drawing upon years of experience working in journalism, brings the reader into the behind-the-scenes world of law enforcement.
I’ve read several authors who construct a good story yet when I do a little homework, the investigative details fall apart after a cursory examination. It’s like the writer spent a little time at a gun range, maybe went on a ride-along, spoke with an officer friend. Those circumstances are woven into crime fiction, and are perhaps good for most readership, I suppose. I tend to start digging into details – my own fault – I details unravel. Mr. Connelly writes from experience, with believability, and his characters ring true. Thus, while Bosch may not get into fisticuffs and prolonged gun battles with criminals, Bosch takes us along as a third partner, leading us to places where Edgar and Kiz may get left behind.
Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch is not precisely a team player. His partners need to be loyal to him, but he isn’t exactly loyal to them. Bosch is a “do as I say, not as I do” detective. He expects his partner to toe the legal lines; Harry decides when to walk the line or step over the line and shields his partners from his actions, or at least tries to. In City of Bones Harry’s partner Jerry Edgar is often left behind, sometimes because of convenience, sometimes to ensure Jerry’s reputation is not tarnished by Harry’s unorthodox and potentially unethical behavior. It’s Harry’s behavior which gets him promoted to Robbery-Homicide Division (RHD), then demoted to Hollywood Homicide, then promoted again at the end of City of Bones back to RHD.
City of Bones is not so much about the mystery of the bones found in the Hollywood Hills, near Wonderland Avenue off Laurel Canyon Drive as it is about Bosch’s redemption through his pursuit of truth and justice. Harry pushes and pushes, pushes his witnesses, like Johnny Stokes, a friend of the victim; pushes neighbors, like Nicholas Trent, who was in possession of some evidence. Bosch works the remaining family, a father who was a former B-movie actor, and a sister currently working as a casting director but hiding serious secrets.
Much of City of Bones takes place in and around Los Angeles. I’ve only had one experience in L.A. so am nowhere near the expert on the City of Angels as Michael Connelly. Like Sara Paretsky and James Lee Burke, Connelly takes his readers on a tour of his city. The victim’s sister, for instance, lives along a stretch of midtown L.A. called the “Miracle Mile.” Wedged between Wilshire Boulevard to the north and West Olympic Boulevard to the south, the Miracle Mile derives its name from television director, Nik Visgar. He was quoted as saying, “these miles, they create miracles.”
As I scanned these online maps I made a surprising discovery. Right on Wilshire Boulevard is a place called “Busby’s East.” The place looks rough, a sign blaring “Busby’s” and a door leading back to a ping-pong bar. The reviews aren’t so hot, either. Can this place be connected to my family, maybe? Chances are pretty good, actually. My father’s family has many distant relatives who live in SoCal, none of whom I know, but I would not be at all surprised if this business is named for some distant relative.
See what happens when you read?
Much later in the book, Bosch pulls a stunt, leaves his partner behind in morning’s wee hours and heads to Lone Pine, California. Former neighbors of the victim have relocated to this small desert town, located west of Death Valley. Early in the investigation, Bosch and Edgar believed one of the families residing in the neighborhood had the name “Foster,” as in “The Foster’s once lived next door.” However, Bosch, raised as a foster child himself, realized later perhaps the family was really a foster family and he had mistakenly confused a name with a service. Being a detective requires a very nimble mind, not solely a trait of novel detectives but also real detectives. Even non-detective people can benefit from paying attention to details in their lives. Little hints and clues and seemingly innocent details individually meaningless but taken together may lead to a stock tip, or some covert activity your kids are planning. I’m not encouraging people to spy; I’m simply recommending people attention, especially my students 🙂
City of Bones represents a mid-career Harry Bosch novel. The first Harry Bosch novel hit stores around 1992, with The Black Echo. I’ve read A Darkness More Than Night (the book preceding City of Bones) and 9 Dragons [review]. As I’ve stated before I give authors two books to sell me on their writing chops, and Mr. Connelly spins a good police procedure crime novel. I’ll keep reading what he writes.
City of Bones also seems the basis for the opening season of “Bosch,” an Amazon Prime Original Series. As I read the novel I couldn’t help but think of the pilot I watched over the 2014 Christmas holiday. Looking back at the series episodes, I’m pretty sure this novel serves as the first season’s primary story arc. Other novels may also serve as plot fodder. I’ll have to dive back into the show and see. Titus Welliver (imdb) plays Bosch; you may have seen him in Deadwood, NYPD Blue, or Sons of Anarchy. I think he hits the mark for playing Bosch.
I’d like to thank Shadow of Iris, LadyFanciful, and Josbons for taking the time to like posts of mine. I know the Internet is full of exciting stuff and I appreciate people choosing to spend some of their valuable to time in consideration of my writing.