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Onyx reviews: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 12/09/2014

Harry Bosch, still working on the Cold Case squad thanks to a deferred retirement program, doesn't see many cases where the victim's body is still warm. Orlando Merced, a mariachi musician, was shot ten years ago. The bullet lodged in his spine leaving him disabled, but he survived and became a celebrity thanks to his association with various high profile politicians in Los Angeles. His recent death, however, can be linked directly back to the shooting, turning it into a slow-motion homicide. Finally gaining access to the bullet reveals that it's from a rifle, making the previous theory of a random or drive-by shooting less likely.

Harry has yet another new partner, this one a rookie who got bumped up to the Open-Unsolved Unit ahead of other, more veteran officers after she became a media darling for the way she handled a liquor store holdup. Lucia Soto has a secret agenda that Harry eventually discovers, a pet case that she wants to explore on her own time: a tenement fire where eight children died in an illegal basement daycare center. Initially thought to be an accidental fire, by the time arson was determined, most of the evidence had been destroyed and witnesses lost.

Never one to worry about things like rules and regulations, Harry finds a way to "link" the apartment fire to their current case, which gets the off-the-books investigation on the books. He sees promise in Soto, so he decides to mentor her, while trying to shield her from some of his unorthodox tactics. Harry's days are numbered, and he lives in fear that he's going to get caught doing something that will not only get him sent out to pasture early but cost him his retirement.

Harry doesn't have much left in his life other than work. He has no romantic ties, and his daughter, although still a teenager, has reached a more independent phase in her life. He tries to arrange his schedule to find time to be with her when he can, but she understands the demands of his job and has her own obligations and interests.

His cases almost always bring him up against powerful people, either within the department or at some other lofty political stratum, and this case is no different. Upon closer look, and with the benefit of newer technology, Harry and Lucia find an entirely new angle to the Merced murder case. Having two ongoing investigations might be an impediment to some, but Harry knows how to balance them, switching gears to whichever has more momentum at the moment. The arson case, too, gives up some new clues that tell him that there's more going on than at first seemed to be the case.

The problem with cold cases—especially those with political overtones—is that resolution is sometimes difficult to achieve. In older cases, culprits can be deceased or long gone, and in more recent ones, power players who still exert some influence can manage to make things go away. Harry and Lucia face both of those complications. On the other hand, they end up solving a number of other cases along the way, ones they weren't even working on.

Harry makes an error late in the investigation that almost proves fatal for an innocent bystander. Also, his corner-cutting measures leave him in a vulnerable and uncertain position by the end of the book. It's unclear what will become of him in the future.

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