Hieronymous Bosch looks at evil and does a double take.
Michael Connelly’s latest addition to the detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch series “The Drop,” provides a diptych of cases, dual views of the origin of evil and pairs of parents and their kids.
An antsy Bosch, working in Open-Unsolved cases with his partner Chu, has too little to do. Then too much. In one day, two cases are dropped on his desk. DNA on a blood smear taken from rape and murder victim 20 years ago turns up a match and what appears to be a likely perpetrator – except 20 years ago, the suspect would have been just 8 years old.
A second case comes down from on high. City Councilman Irvin Irving’s son is dead, splattered on a sidewalk beneath the balcony of the Chateau Marmont, a possible accident, suicide or murder; a drop. Irving, Bosch’s old nemesis, wants Bosch on the case. Irving knows Bosch will do an expert job and the case this will test Bosch’s personal ethic: “Everybody counts or nobody counts,” a commitment to equal treatment no matter who the victim is, a commitment Bosch usually applies to the nobodies others ignore. Will Bosch’s code apply to the son of his worst enemy?
The Irving drop is given high priority. The other case has been waiting 20 years to be solved, and some feel it can wait a little longer. Not Bosch.
The cases tug Bosch first one way – leading him to crimes by the lowest of the low, and then the other, to political corruption and “high jinx” – police talk for power and influence. His natural instincts draw him to pursue the nearly forgotten rape and murder. Pressure from Irving as well as the police chief and an assistant Kiz Rider, Bosch’s former partner, keep pushing him back to the drop case. Bosch’s moral quest to be true to his code drives the plot right up to the final pages.
Before both cases are solved Bosch comes in contact with the most abhorrent of criminals –pedophiles and a serial killer as well as politically compromised individuals at many levels. Everyone from a journalist pursuing stories to cops and politicians doing favors are potential double crossers. Who is trustworthy when it seems everybody – including Bosch – will cross ethical lines?
One Bosch step over the line includes romancing the social worker counseling the pedophile he’s investigating. The mutual attraction makes for the oddest of courtship rituals; Hannah wants to know where Harry stands on the age-old question– where does evil come from before they proceed with a relationship. The two work at professions that are seemingly at odds on how to respond to darkened hearts. The discussion is an occasion for a theme at the book’s core – the relationship of nature and nurture to the formation of character. That theme also plays out, ironically in Harry and Hannah’s lives. Harry is the single parent of a teenage daughter. Maddie, who has come to live with him, since the death of her mother, wants to be a cop just like dad. By contrast, Hannah reveals she has a bad apple son, who’s choices are so different from hers that she struggles to understand him.
While The Drop’s crimes include monstrous acts involving rape and torture, Connelly doesn’t hover over gruesome details. There are other books for those who wish to look at grisly scenes and cringe. Even better, those curious for grotesque details can revisit the paintings of Bosch’s namesake. Connelly chooses instead to fill his pages describing old and new facets of Bosch’s character as partner, lover, father and future retiree. Some of the most heartfelt moments are those Bosch spends with 15-year old daughter. Precocious Maddie seems wise beyond her years – and potentially as good a detective as Bosch. This comes with sweet sadness for Bosch readers. He’s getting old and he knows it, feels it. He tells Maddie he’s losing his edge: “Well, I am thinking that I’m tailing off, you know? Like anything –athletics, shooting, playing music, even creative thinking-- there’s a drop-off of skills at a certain point. And I don’t know, maybe I’m getting there and I should get out.”
Which brings us to the double entendre to the title – drop doesn’t just refer to the unexplained death of Irving’s son. DROP stands for Deferred Retirement Option Plan, a program that allows the once-retired Bosch to work, but limits how long. That gives Bosch just a few more cases and a few more years to nurture what the inherent qualities that dominate daughter Maddie’s nature.
I’m looking forward to discovering the results. Let’s hope Connelly, who is just 55, isn’t thinking of taking a page from Bosch and considering slowing down. Though he may be a card carrying AARP member, he’s still got work to do. Maddie Bosch looks like she’s got a future that will make interesting reading.