Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but my two absolute favorite detective fiction series feature main characters who are Vietnam War veterans. That would be Dave Robicheaux, the flawed Cajun detective hero of twenty smashingly good procedural/thrillers by James Lee Burke, and Harry Bosch, the complicated Los Angeles Police Department detective at the center of nineteen thriller/detectives by former L.A.Times police reporter Michael Connelly.
Which brings us to Connelly’s latest, just-published Harry Bosch, The Burning Room (Little, Brown, 388 pp., $28). It’s been two years since the last Bosch, The Black Box (Little Brown, 416 pp., $27.99). I was more than ready for the latest installment in the adventures of the smart and dedicated—but sometimes ornery and emotionally fragile—former Vietnam War tunnel rat, now nearing retirement working in the LAPD cold-case division.
I devoured the rapid-reading Burning Room as I had its eighteen predecessors. Once again I was impressed by Connelly’s story-telling abilities. The plot hummed along with plenty of twists (maybe one or two too many). The characters were well drawn and believable. The physical landscape of the greater Los Angeles area sketched vividly and convincingly.
The plot follows Connelly’s main Bosch formula: working with a new partner, Harry uses his brains and experience (and stretches legal limits a tad) to solve a perplexing crime. There are plenty of roadblocks, including the fact that the case is ten years old and it leads him to a related, second heinous crime to investigate. Harry runs into trouble from self-serving bureaucratic higher-ups and has to juggle work vs. family responsibilities, namely being the single father of a high-school-age daughter.
This is a police procedural with thriller elements, so we more or less know who the bad guys are fairly quickly. But that doesn’t hamper the page-turning quotient. Connelly keeps things moving quickly to a conclusion that including a surprise element.
Bosch’s service in the Vietnam War plays a very small part in the book. The first mention doesn’t come until about a third of the way in.
He’s discussing interrogation techniques with his young partner, whose grandfather (!) served in Vietnam. The topic of “enhanced” methods and “tools of interrogation,” Connelly writes, “threatened to trigger Bosch’s own memories and he didn’t need that now. He brought the discussion back on point.”
Later, Bosch comes across a Vietnam War-era M60 machine gun. “Those who carried the M60 through the Vietnamese jungle had a love/hate relationship with it,” Connelly writes through Bosch’s eyes. “They called it ‘the pig’ whenever they had to lug the heavy weapon out on patrol. But heavy or not, it was the best gun to be holding in your hands in a firefight.”
As usual, Connelly, who was in middle school during the height of the Vietnam War, does very well in the accuracy and verisimilitude departments when dealing with the Vietnam War and Harry’s service in it.
Connelly’s website is www.michaelconnelly.com/novels/burning-room