The boy that died

''City of Bones''
By Michael Connelly
(Little, Brown, 393 pps., $25.59)

Buy it at in hardcover

Reviewed by John Orr
April 2002

A small but tasty and telling detail in ''City of Bones,'' the new Harry Bosch mystery from Michael Connelly:

He's in the basement at Parker Center, headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department: ''Bosch went to a microfiche reader and copier, set out a sandwich and the two coffees and took the second sandwich back to the counter. The clerk refused the first offer but then took the sandwich when Bosch said it was from Philippe's.''

Those few lines establish Bosch as a pretty good guy and demonstrate Connelly's knowledge of L.A.: Philippe's is where the French-dip sandwich was invented, in 1908, and where great sandwiches are still made. (If there is a sandwich as good anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have yet to find it, in 14 years of looking.)

And, that great first French dip was made for an L.A. cop.

''City of Bones'' doesn't go that far back in history, but its key mystery involves the skeleton of child found in Laurel Canyon that turns out to be the remains of a 12-year-old skateboarder who had disappeared in 1980.

After the coroner looks at the small bones, he tells Bosch ''I found 44 distinct locations indicating separate trauma in various stages of healing. And these were just his bones, Detective. It doesn't cover the damage that could have been inflicted on vital organs and the tissue. But it is without a doubt that this boy lived probably day in and day out with a lot of pain.''

That sad story is the skeleton on which Connelly builds a pretty good novel that is largely about being a detective in the corporate era of the L.A.P.D.

Bosch is a good cop who wants justice for those small bones; the department wants quick closure and good publicity; another cop wants to kiss up to a local TV reporter, and leaks information that leads to the suicide of a suspect. Another cop wants to be a hero during a bust of another suspect and gets herself shot.

Clues, clues everywhere, and not a cop to think -- except Bosch, of course, who keeps slogging through 20-year-old case and tries to find the truth in the memories of the boys' surviving family members and friends.

In some ways it is a harrowing and all too realistic tale of broken families in the modern age. An ugly picture of urban life.

But, Bosch is an appealing character, well realized, and Connelly captures the feel of the city of Los Angeles in a way that makes a reader want to come back to the book for a visit. L.A. has its gothic horrors, certainly; but it also has a certain charm in its people that Connelly brings alive in his pages.

Cavils? Yes. Connelly falls back on two cliches of detective fiction that were below the overall quality of the book. Will you read more about them here? No, that would be giving away too much. Read the book and play Spot the Cheesy Cliche yourself.