Back to the Boneyard

City of Bones” is a book I would love to recommend. Michael Connelly has a good track record. His descriptions of L.A. and police work are convincing, and like books in this genre (police procedural, existential hero division), there’s the serious voice that tries to imply that there’s something going on underneath the story — the “City of Bones” as a metaphor for L.A. There’s even something of a love story and the type of ending that would suggest a major change in police detective Harry Bosch.

And the story starts out with a bang, too, with the discovery of the bones of a long-dead child in a wooded lot in a residential section of the City of Angels. This brings out the usual cast of characters: the publicity hungry coroner who brings her own camera crew along, the police and press helicopters hanging overhead like sinister fireflies, the press pack using means fair and foul to gain access, the police officials putting pressure on Harry to solve the case fast.

And Harry Bosch is a good example of the angst-ridden detective with a past. He’s not too overbearingly morose to inspire thoughts of Prozac and long bouts of rest. He’s good at what he does and dedicated to his work for a reason: “It’s the feeling that this won’t just go by. That those bones came out of the ground for a reason. That they came out of the ground for me to find, and for me to do something about. And that’s what holds me together and keeps me going.”

The case itself proceeds with the usual twists and turns, as Bosch digs back into the boy’s past and uncovers the people who would like to see the case and the body remain buried. Connelly’s a former police reporter, and he uses his eye for detail to build a convincing portrait of big-city police work’s alternative culture, and how the relatively simple task of detecting can be bent and sometimes sabotaged by the media, by budgetary constraints and by on-the-job incompetence.

Yet “City of Bones” left me cold. While Connelly is good at the visible details, the invisible ones trip him up. This is especially troublesome when they involve major plot points — and readers who wish to read the book anyway should skip this and the next paragraph. For example, one officer tries to make herself over into a hero by attempting to kill a chase suspect and wound herself, only it goes wrong and she dies. Her death is heartfelt and sad, but the reason Bosch ferrets out — “she said she hoped to get a chance to be a hero one day. But I think there was something else in all this. It was like she wanted the scar, the experience of it” — doesn’t ring true — and ending it with “I don’t know. I guess everybody’s got secrets” comes off as lame.

Connelly follows that with a major change in Bosch’s life for which the motivation is equally as confusing. The resolution of the murder results in Bosch resigning the department. Again, why? Was he affected by the officer’s death? Is he tired of the office politics? Given the evils that he’s seen on the job, I can’t imagine that would be the case. Yet, nothing fits.

“City of Bones” is all effect and no cause. It’s well-written, tightly paced and a quick read, but it may be better not to think about it too much after you close the covers.