Author: Michael Connelly

Title: The Drop

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co. 

After devoting his last few stories to creating courtroom dramas, bestselling novelist Michael Connelly returns to where he began with his latest novel, The Drop.

Over his nearly 20-year career, Connelly has shifted between a cast of characters in the same Los Angeles universe, and in The Drop, he focuses attention on his most popular protagonist, LAPD detective Harry Bosch. 

Although Bosch has spent time in the department's Homicide division, he's now working in the Open-Unsolved unit, investigating cold cases. The novel opens with a particularly thorny cold case: DNA from a 20-year old rape/murder matches a convicted rapist, but he happened to be eight years old at the time.

Bosch starts to unravel this puzzle, in the process learning some uncomfortable truths about Clayton Pell, the convicted sex offender. Most notable is the fact that he himself was the victim of abuse as a child, a fact which forces Bosch to re-evaluate his long-held views on victims and predators.

Just as Bosch begins to dig into this case, his contact at the office of the Chief of Police tells him City Councilman Irvin Irving - a longtime nemesis of Bosch's - has asked for Bosch personally to investigate the suspicious death of his son at Sunset Strip hotel Chateau Marmont.

The type of death - a plunge from the balcony of a top floor suite - is the origin of the novel's title. The other origin of the title hints at one of the novel's central themes, that of Bosch's commitment to personal integrity in the face of intra-department politics as he faces impending retirement.

The acronym DROP refers to a police department program called Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which, as the name suggests, allows retirement-age cops to defer their retirement. As the novel opens, Bosch receives word he's been granted less than four years remaining in his career. This "the end is near" situation creates an interesting dynamic, which Connelly exploits nicely.

Bosch is a by-the-book detective, loyal to his partners and former partners, who gets things done the old-fashioned way. It's clear from many sources that maintaining this attitude will bring him into conflict with a variety of people, from his partner David Chu to Councilman Irving and Kizmin Rider, his contact in the office of the Chief of Police. The Drop isn't Connelly's most pulse-pounding work of suspense.

The cases he's chosen to focus on aren't that much different from the kind seen on TV crime procedurals. What makes the novel compelling, as in much of Connelly's work, is these diverse personal relationships, with his daughter Maddie, his partner Chu, Councilman Irving, convicted child molester Pell, and Dr. Hannah Stone, who runs a rehab facility for released sex offenders, are all compelling for differing reasons.

The one thing they have in common is they all continue to develop the character of Bosch, and as any reader knows, the more we care about a character personally, the more we care about what they're doing. So even if getting to the bottom of the DNA mystery isn't particularly suspenseful, Bosch's wrestling with several big issues, is.

At this point in his career, Michael Connelly is writing from a place of utter confidence in his abilities, and the main characters he's chosen to build stories around carry enough baggage from previous installments to make them nuanced, dimensional figures. Credit Connelly with finding new, revealing pathways into a veteran character like Bosch. While The Drop isn't his finest work, it's a solid read with just enough thematic intrigue to make it work. 

*This review first published 12/12/2011