The Washington Post calls Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books ” the finest crime series written by an American”, a statement I fully endorse. I have read almost all the Harry Bosch books, over twenty of them, and no other series even comes close. My problem is that when I get hold of one of them, I am so hooked to them that I finish them in two or three days and then have to wait impatiently for the next one.
I just finished reading ” The Burning Room”, Connelly’s latest, and it is one of his best. Bosch, retired but still working in the Open- Unsolved Unit under the DROP program, is in the last year of his long career but is still as driven as he was in his prime. When the book begins, he is mentoring his inexperienced partner Detective Lucia Soto as they investigate a most unusual case. A mariachi musician who was shot during a performance ten years earlier has finally succumbed to his injuries. The body may be fresh but there are almost no other clues except for the bullet which was embedded in his body and has now been extracted. LA’s former mayor who had used the shooting in his election campaign is now running from governor and is taking a keen interest in the investigation. Examination of the bullet shows that it came from a rifle, not a handgun; Bosch and Soto realize that this was no drive-by shooting but a premeditated murder. This takes their investigation into new territory. Complicating matters is Soto’s backstory. As a child she had survived a fire in her daycare center, a fire which killed several other children and a beloved caregiver. The fire was belatedly ruled a case of arson and Soto wants to find the perpetrators. Harry agrees to help her and , soon, there appears to be a connection between the arson and the murder.
Connelly used to be a crime reporter for the L.A. Times before he became a full-time writer and it shows in his mastery of police procedures and local and police politics in the City of the Angels. As Soto and he pursue their investigation, and the clues emerge one by one, the reader almost feels he is in the squad car with them. Because of the political ramifications, Bosch has to tread carefully even as he has to work around budget restrictions and overtime constraints. Bosch, however, is his usual driven self, trying to be there for his teenage daughter Maddy, while trying to unravel the puzzle. Before the case is solved, it will take Bosch and Soto to Tulsa and Mexico but solve it they do , though the ending has a surprise twist that seems to hint this may be the last case of Harry’s career. I hope not because, as a loyal reader of the Bosch novels, that would be a sad loss.
One, perhaps two, of Connelly’s novels have been made into films but they did not feature Harry Bosch. I was delighted to chance upon the just released Amazon Prime series ” Bosch”. It is a ten part series starring Titus Welliver in the title role. I remember him best as the crooked DA in ” The Good Wife” though his face is also familiar from many other roles that I cannot now recollect. Welliver is an inspired choice to play Bosch; he is just as I imagined Bosch would be. The hooded world-weary eyes, the worn features, the walk with a hint of swagger, his obsessive nature, his uncompromising attitude and resistance to authority and his essential loneliness… they are all there. The supporting cast is also excellent. The storyline for the series has been taken from a mix of several of the Bosch novels. The film begins with the accidental discovery of a child’s bone on an L.A hillside. The entire skeleton is soon discovered and forensic analysis reveals that the poor child had been subjected to horrific abuse. Simultaneously, Bosch has to deal with a serial killer who escapes from custody and taunts Bosch to capture him.
I must warn you that the series is very ” dark”. Watching it , I was a reminded of a friend of mine, a forensic criminologist, who never would tell his wife about the work he did and the cases he had to investigate. He told her that if he did she would lose all faith in humanity. Reading about these cases in the novels was not as horrifying as when they were depicted on TV. It is not that there is any graphic violence; it is the sheer depravity of the perpetrators.
One disadvantage of having read the novels already is that I remember who the killer was, why he did it and other details of the case. Still, I found the series enthralling because of Welliver’s portrayal of Bosch and because it brought to life the milieu that he works in. The detectives squad room, their camaraderie and the office politics, the glimpses of L.A, Bosch’s hillside house with its stunning nighttime view of L.A, his relationship with his ex-wife and their growing daughter … all are shown in rich detail. The series is true to the novels though some things have been modernized to make the setting more up-to-date. For instance, there are references to Bosch serving in Afghanistan, and to the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri both of which are not in the books.
All in all, this is a series well worth watching though it is disturbing at times. If you haven’t read the books, you have the advantage of not knowing in advance how it all shakes out. If you have read the books, you have the pleasure of watching on-screen what you had only read about and of seeing how closely the two match.