There is a formula to the crime novel, especially one that takes on a "noir"-like feel.
A murder is committed or a body discovered, and the renegade detective begins to investigate, using methods that don't always endear him to his superiors. Clues lead to dead ends, nefarious characters are met and a love interest is romanced. There are twists and turns before the killer is finally discovered if not always brought to justice.
With the basic plot objectives sketched out, it's up to the novelist to fill in the blanks.
In "City of Bones," Michael Connelly serves up a colorful, fast-paced and entertaining story that grabs the reader on the first page and doesn't let him come up for air until secrets are uncovered and murderers are revealed.
This latest in the series featuring Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosch begins with the image of a hanged woman, a suicide victim who decided too late that she wanted to live. Though this woman, who "had dug her fingers into the paint and plaster of the nearby wall until most of her fingernails had broken off," has nothing to do with the rest of the novel, the grisly image of her death pulls the reader into the story headfirst.
From that point on, it's a struggle for the reader to even think about putting the book down.
Mere pages later, Bosch goes to a house to investigate a bone dug up by a dog. The dog's owner, a retired physician, is sure the bone is human. He's right, and it's soon traced to a shallow grave on a wooded hillside behind the doctor's house.
Whose bones are these, how did they get there and, most important, who put them there?
It's up to Bosch, a prototypical loner detective, to find the answers.
Unlike many fictional detectives, Bosch does not have any special method to his detective madness. He is merely relentless and obsessive, often working overtime and running off without his partner Edgar to immediately investigate his latest hunch.
"I have a faith and I have a mission. Call it blue religion, call it whatever you like," Bosch says. "It's the belief 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."
It's learned that the bones are those of a young boy, one who experienced severe physical abuse. Once the boy's identity is discovered, Bosch and Edgar begin an investigation that reveals a family shattered years ago by alcoholism and abuse, one whose members have separated one even taking on a new identity.
Of course, there is also the requisite romance, this time with a rookie officer, Julia Brasher, who has a penchant for living on the edge. And there is friction with his bosses, some who would like nothing more than to see the aging Bosch fail at the investigation so they can push him into retirement.
The novel has slight echoes of the movie "Chinatown" in its depiction of broken families with secret pasts. At one point Bosch even recites the movie's famous last line "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." to himself.
But "City of Bones" is undeniably contemporary. Media coverage and public perception seem almost as important to many of Bosch's superiors as finding the killer, and there are several references to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
With witty dialogue and constant action, Connelly hurtles the reader along, keeping the plot constantly moving and the mystery constantly intriguing.