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Onyx reviews: City of Bones by Michael Connelly

When a dog digs up an arm bone buried in hills of Laurel Canyon on New Years Day, Detective Harry Bosch realizes he's caught a case that's cold from day one.

The aged bone leads to a shallow grave where police excavate the remnants of the skeleton of a young boy. Forensic evidence indicates the body was buried at least twenty years earlier and the victim had been subjected to horrific and repetitive abuse over his short lifetime.

Since the homicide most of the neighborhood's population has turned over. Bosch is pressured by his superiors to wrap the case up quickly. Cold cases don't bring much prestige to the LAPD. Bosch couldn't be blamed for thinking he's the only one who cares about this murder.

Bosch is the strong, silent type, an archetypal noir hardboiled hero. An orphan himself, he takes the murder as a personal challenge, refusing to back off when all clues lead to dead ends. He's such a loner he sometimes forgets he has a partner, much to his colleague's consternation.

He's also playing loose with departmental policy by dating a thirtysomething rookie cop, Julia Brasher, a former lawyer escaping from the family business who admires the scars of Bosch's past.

Through the miracles of modern forensic science, Bosch and his partner eventually identify the young victim and explore his past to discover how he ended up in a hole on a steep hillside. They soon learn that someone wishes the bones had stayed buried.

Connelly, a former crime beat reporter for the LA Times, personifies the media through an egotistical celebrity coroner (Bosch's former lover) never seen without a Court TV cameraman recording her every move for posterity, and by a power-hungry cop who feeds information directly to reporters, jeopardizing cases in the name of instant gratification. Press helicopters hang over the excavation scene like vultures, eager for the first glimpse of bone. The media wants to sensationalize the case; the police department wants it to go away.

His years on the crime beat show through in Connelly's attention to detail. He knows how cops work, and it isn't all glamorous. There's gruntwork and internal politics. The relatively simple task of detecting can be bent and sometimes sabotaged by the media, budgetary constraints and simple incompetence.

Connelly's other strength is in characterization. He pays attention to his secondary characters, fleshing them out enough to make them real. While the strength of any novel rests primarily on reader identification with the protagonist, by adding dimensions to the supporting cast Connelly gives the book depth. The residents of the neighborhood around the crime scene aren't cardboard placeholders—they're real people with lives of their own apart from Bosch's investigation.

He's writing in Chandler territory. Los Angeles, the City of Bones, has little changed from Philip Marlowe's era. It's a dark, grim place where everyone has secrets they would rather no one dug up, frustrating Bosch's investigation.

By the time he gets to the bottom of the case, much has changed in Bosch's life. He's been with the force for over twenty-five years and every encounter he's ever had with evil has built up within him. In the closing pages, he makes a decision that will leave readers wondering what will become of Connelly's best-known and well-loved protagonist. The author claims he has plans for Bosch's future, but readers will have to wait until next year to find out what's in store for him.

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