By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Michael Connelly
Narrated by: Titus Welliver
“The Burning Room” is an entertaining cops and criminals’ story set in Los Angeles by its author, Michael Connelly. Not having read any of Connelly’s books, Hieronymus Bosch is a recurring figure in many of Connelly’s novels. Without background in the series, Connelly writes a self-contained story of a police detective nearing the age of retirement. Harry Bosch is handling cold cases with a rookie police woman.
In general, the dialogue of the story makes a listener feel the tedium and thrill of being a cop in a big city. With few exceptions (one being the hackneyed comment, “copy that”), Connelly’s dialogue is crisp, informative, and absorbing. The story has particular appeal to those nearing the end of a career because it involves mentoring a younger person committed to the same profession.
The story is about two cold cases. One is the death of a musician that dies at the hands of a hired killer. The second is the death of several children in the basement of a mid-rise building. The title, “…Burning Room”, has two meanings. One is literal; i.e. a fire that kills several children in the room of an apartment building. The second is figurative; i.e. the guilt in one’s mind when responsible or implicated in harm done to others. In some respects, the second issue is more universal because it applies to cops, criminals, and all people who experience physical or psychological trauma.
Harry Bosch, in “The Burning Room”, is everything the public hopes a police detective is or becomes with experience. He insists on partner honesty. He believes in justice for all. He admires integrity and commitment of fellow officers. He ignores or subverts bureaucracy that interferes with justice. He confronts suspects with appropriate and considered physical force. He mentors inexperienced subordinates to grow into equal or better detectives.
Connelly does not show Bosch to be perfect. He is a single parent that is committed to a job that interferes with family responsibility. Bosch is unsure of where to draw a line with his daughter that allows her to become her own person. Bosch manipulates human relationship by withholding information and emotional attachment. In sum, Connelly successfully perpetuates a believable human character.
As in real life, solving Bosch’s and his acolyte’s two cold cases is a mixture of satisfying resolution and frustrating irresolution. Some justice prevails but injustice reasserts itself. The arbitrariness of society and the nature of human beings continue to allow some criminals to go free and some institutions to punish the wrong people.