The Drop sees the return of Harry Bosch, Michael Connolly’s grizzled Los Angeles police detective. Bosch is said to have seen action in Vietnam, and this novel appears to be set in the present day, so he presumably is getting on in years. Having retired and returned to work he now extends his service using a deferred retirement scheme – which gives us the title of the book. Yes, that’s right, a police story using an acronym for deferred retirement as its title. Of course there is an intended pun, in that the primary investigation in the novel is a suspected suicide by high rise jump. There is a sub-plot involving a DNA hit on a long unsolved murder which is integrated nicely into the overall structure – Connolly is a very experienced writer with 25 or so books to his name, and it shows.
This is a guilty pleasure – there is no pretence at anything other than entertainment, and I have to be honest I found it a very easy, undemanding, and enjoyable read. Bosch conforms to the stereotype defined by Raymond Chandler long ago, a loner who struggles with relationships and authority, determined to do what is right irrespective of the personal cost:
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor – by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world….. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks — that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness….If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in. ” (The Simple Art of Murder)
That captures Bosch, and many other fictional detectives, so well.
In any long running series there are some challenges for the writer – how to avoid repeating yourself and being predictable while at the same time working within the recognised structure – avoiding gimmicks like relocating to different locations, (although the last Bosch novel did end up in Hong Kong). As a police detective there are constraints on where and how Bosch can work, limiting the writer’s scope for innovation. And within these constraints you can only have so many angry confrontations with impatient supervisors, interrogations of over-confident suspects, intuitive breakthroughs from tiny clues, etc, etc. Connolly seems to have recognised these issues, but shrugged and thought people will keep buying the books so no real need to keep things fresh.
As a result this novel has a reheated feel, one of Connolly going through the motions. Bosch has a short term romance – but guess what, work gets in the way. City Hall politicians conspire to frustrate his investigation. A killer wonders who will play him in the film of his exploits. And a suspected suicide turns out to be, guess what, a suicide! There’s nothing here to surprise or challenge the reader, but it is clear that the reader, even this one, sometimes wants plain undemanding fare. Same again please.
Connolly suffers from the comparison with Chandler, as every crime writer would, but if you want a murder story that aspires to be something that will just pass away a train journey, it’s Chandler every time.