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Onyx reviews: The Drop by Michael Connelly

It's rare that a book's title is pressed into as much service as it is in The Drop. It refers to a drop of blood that is a new clue in one of LAPD's open/unsolved cases. It denotes the manner of death of the son of a powerful and antagonistic former deputy chief of police who is now on the city council. It is also the acronym of the LAPD's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, whereby officers are allowed to continue working after mandatory retirement.

Harry Bosch has already retired once and changed his mind. Now the clock is ticking again. As the book opens, he receives word that his DROP has been partially approved. He has 39 months left before he's done for good. He's not sure whether he's happy to have the extra time or sorry that it's so short. He was eligible for a full five years.

Bosch and his partner, David Chu, are floaters in the Open-Unsolved division. They handle the overflow from their colleagues and are assigned cases where special handling may be required. Their newest assignment is delicate: DNA results on a cold murder case match a sexual predator, but he was only 8 years old at the time of the killing. Bosch's lieutenant is worried that the officers working the case mixed samples up or—worse—that the DNA lab messed things up, which would open a can of worms.

Before Bosch and Chu can start their investigation, though, Bosch is summoned to the chief of police's office, where he is handed another case—and not a cold one. The deceased, George Irving, either jumped, fell, or was pushed from the balcony of a prestigious hotel. He happens to be the son of Councilman Irvin Irving, with whom Bosch has a tempestuous past. Irving used his considerable influence to insist that Bosch lead the investigation, which concerns everyone involved since Irving is not a friend of the LAPD. Since being forced into retirement (in which Bosch had a hand), Irving has made it his mission to make things miserable for the LAPD. His son's death is a case with "high jingo," a term that means politics may trump evidence. Bosch has to second guess everyone's motivations, including those of his partner, who resents the way Bosch keeps him in the dark, and his former partner, Lt. Kiz Rider. Just when he thinks he has all the players figured out, he comes to the realization that he may have been wrong about everything.

While there is subtle but obvious pressure to close the case as a suicide, Bosch refuses to give the investigation less than his all. Feathers will be ruffled. Careers may be destroyed. Bosch doesn't care. He will follow the evidence, wherever it leads. His mantra is "everybody counts or nobody counts." This applies to his cold case, too. The Irving case threatens to push it to the back burner but Bosch keeps at it. The DNA from a drop of blood on the victim's body belongs to Clayton Pell, who has served time for sexual offences and who now lives in a voluntary halfway house with a number of other offenders. The institution satisfies the onerous restrictions on where people like him can live.

Bosch is a single father to his daughter, Maddie, an aspiring cop who, at fifteen, is wiser than her years. Maddie is something of a problem for Connelly, if not for Bosch. He has to find creative and plausible ways to get her out of the way so Bosch can pursue his cases unencumbered. There are a few nice scenes between father and daughter—Maddie provides fresh insight into the Irving case and Bosch takes Maddie to her first shooting competition on Catalina—but most of their interactions involve Maddie conveniently asking her father if she can spend time with friends.

Though Bosch is repulsed by Clayton Pell, his viewpoint is realigned somewhat by Dr. Hannah Stone, the pretty therapist running the halfway house. Pell was a victim as a child and it is Bosch's responsibility to bring that culprit to justice. Still, no matter what he learns about Pell's past, he never forgets that the man victimized other people, too. Bosch hasn't had much of a social life, but he pursues the mutual interest apparent during his meetings with Stone, even after he discovers that she has a few ghosts of her own rattling around. Their wariness goes both ways: When she asks Bosch penetrating questions about where he thinks evil comes from, she isn't entirely happy with his answers—for personal reasons.

A less experienced writer might have tried to tie the Irving and Pell cases together. Connelly wisely resists this temptation. The only thing the two have in common is Bosch, and he has to find a way to keep working both cases when he is under mounting pressure to devote his attention to wrapping up the Irving death. This becomes more difficult when learns that someone else was in the hotel room with Irving before his fatal fall, and the trail leads to unsavory dealings between George Irving, a glorified lobbyist who used his family ties to city council on behalf of his clients, and his father. 

Connelly also resists the temptation to tie up both cases at the same time. After Bosch figures out the truth about Irving's death, he still has to wrap up the Pell case, which leads him into a dark abyss that no one would have expected at the outset. Along the way, in addition to questioning the nature of evil, Connelly also has his characters address an old LAPD controversy about a choke hold technique used to subdue suspects. The technique led to a few deaths and was subject to the same public debate as the current use of the Taser.

A long-time series such as the this can't avoid being uneven. Some recent entries were less than stellar (9 Dragons, for example) and it will be difficult for Connelly to repeat the high point in the series (The Poet), but The Drop is one of the better Bosch novels in recent years. Bosch works through a logical and satisfying chain of evidence to reach his conclusions. By the end, he is at a number of crossroads. Is he ready to retire? Given the mistakes he made, is he starting to get rusty? Is he up to the responsibility of being a full-time single father? Is he ready for a serious relationship with a complicated woman? Does he want to handle the politics associated with his job? He has a few miles (and books) left in him yet, but readers might wonder if Connelly is developing his daughter Maddie as his eventual replacement.

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