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Literature / City of Bones (2002)

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City of Bones is a 2002 mystery novel by Michael Connelly featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch.

Bosch gets a call out on New Year's Day when a citizen calls the cops to tell them that his dog found a human bone. When the bone is confirmed to be human, Bosch has a cold case that is a couple of decades old. Some good detective work and an old surgical scar on the skull confirms the victim to be Arthur Delacroix, a 12-year-old boy who disappeared without a trace in 1980. Further investigation reveals the tragic story of the horribly broken Delacroix family. In the meantime, the fifty-ish Bosch has a new chance at love with Julia Brasher, an LAPD uniform cop.

Parts of this novel were adapted for season 1 of the Amazon series Bosch.

Tropes present in this book:

  • Abusive Parents: Played with. We find out towards the end that it was the sister, not the father, who was abusing the long-dead Arthur.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Bosch uses Billets' nickname ("Bullets") to tell Jerry that she's on his call waiting, only to find out that he didn't click over correctly.
    "It's still me," Billets said.
  • The Alcoholic: Samuel Delacroix, father to the murder victim, a failed actor who is now living a sad life in a trailer. He was drinking in the 1970s, and when Bosch visits him he is drunk in mid-afternoon.
  • All for Nothing: Bosch's noble effort to save Stokes from Police Brutality after Brasher is shot comes to nothing in the end: after Stokes becomes their suspect in the bones case, he winds up dead at the hands of the LAPD.
  • Arc Words: Bosch tells Golliher, who believes that someone in his line of work needs religion, that he has "blue religion" then adds that he has a mission.
  • The Atoner: Edgar suspects Trent's contributions to various childrens' charities was evidence of his being one.
    • Samuel Delacroix confesses to his son's murder in part to atone for abusing his daughter.
    • At the end, Bosch tries to turn Mrs. Waters into one, telling her to "take care of" the kids Trent had been supporting, implicitly and indirectly blaming her for Arthur's death.
  • Blatant Lies: Harry lamely tries the "I don't know what you're talking about" variety when Billets calls out his Accidental Misnaming.
    • Later, Mrs. Waters doesn't believe for a second that the guard at the gate "misunderstood" about whether or not Bosch and Edgar actually had or just could get a court order.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: The book opens with Bosch at the Splendid Age Retirement Home. It's so splendid that one of the residents hanged herself in despair.
  • Bullet Catch: Bosch tells Brasher about one that happened in the most unlikely way possible to him in the tunnels in Nam. See Finger in a Barrel.
  • Bulletproof Vest: It's mentioned in passing that Brasher is wearing hers when she is shot, but the bullet just misses it.
  • The Bus Came Back: Downplayed, as he was never absent in-universe, but Deputy Chief Irvin Irving returns to the actual pages of a story for the first time since Angels Flight in 1999. Justified somewhat in that over that time, Connelly had written a non-Bosch novel and a Crossover story with Bosch and Terry McCaleb which Bosch's part in mostly involved Courtroom Drama.
    • Dr. Hinojos returns, worried about having cleared Brasher for duty.
  • But Now I Must Go: Bosch at the end, burnt out by police work. By the next book, he's regretting it.
  • Call-Forward: Bosch and Edgar encounter Sheila Delacroix while she is casting parts for a TV show called The Closers about detectives who always close the case. A few years after this book, Harry Bosch appeared again in a novel called The Closers.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Bosch needs a smoke after Brasher is shot. He takes one of Stokes'.
  • Continuity Nod: Plenty, as usual:
    • Kizmin Rider's promotion is mentioned again, partly explaining why the three-detective team consists only of Bosch and Edgar.
    • Harry's past relationship with Teresa Corazon is mentioned by way of explaining that he has her phone number memorized.
    • When interviewing Nicholas Trent, Bosch finds out that Trent was a set decorator for the (fictional) film The Art of the Cape. In prior Connelly novel Trunk Music, Bosch investigated the murder of the producer of that film.
    • Bosch once again has a nocturnal encounter with a coyote.
    • We are reminded that Bosch's first name "rhymes with anonymous."
  • Cowboy Cop: Brasher's partner Edgewood nearly kills Stokes after her death and when they go after Stokes a second time (after new evidence turns up) shoots him dead under questionable claims of self-defense.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Irving wants to pin the dead boy in the bones case on Trent, who has conveniently committed suicide. From his perspective, this solves two problems: it closes an unlikely-to-be-closed case and it shifts attention away from the leak in the department which created the Pædo Hunt which caused Trent to kill himself. He thinks better of it.
  • Disposable Woman: Julia Brasher exists, and is killed off, to give Bosch something to feel bad about.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Where Bosch was the last time we saw him. We learn that he has decided to move on.
  • Domestic Abuse: Christine Waters, formerly Delacroix, reveals that her ex-husband Samuel beat her constantly.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Lovingly lampshaded:
    Almost every day a John Q who still kept the faith brought in doughnuts for the division. A little way of saying there were still those out there who knew or at least understood the difficulties of the job. Every day in every division cops put on the badge and tried to do their best in a place where the populace didn't understand them, didn't particularly like them and in many instances outright despised them. Bosch always thought it was amazing how far a box of doughnuts could go in undoing that.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to both the dig to find the bones of the murder victim in the hills, and all the bones beneath the city of Los Angeles. (In one chapter Bosch is shown the skull of a 9000-year-old murder victim, brought up from the La Brea Tar Pits.)
  • Downer Ending: The shattered remants of the Delacroix family don't say anything to each other at the funeral and go their separate ways, and Harry Bosch, grief-stricken after Julia's death, quits the LAPD.
  • Driven to Suicide
    • The book opens with Bosch at the scene of an old lady's suicide in her retirement home.
    • Later, Nicholas Trent, who lived near the crime scene and whose old pedophilia conviction is exposed by the investigation, strangles himself.
  • Fair Cop: Bosch is immediately attracted to good-looking beat cop Julia Brasher when he meets her at a crime scene.
  • Feeling Their Age: This is the first time in the series Bosch explicitly begins to show signs of aging: he slips while coming down a hill and rather seriously injures his ribs. It comes up repeatedly through the story.
  • Finger in a Barrel: Of the "object other than a finger" variety, combined with Bullet Catch: Bosch tells Brasher that when he was in a tunnel in Nam, he and a Vietcong tunnel rat fired at each other and both ran away uninjured. Long story short, when he went to check his gun for a jam, he found the V.C.'s bullet in the barrel of his own gun, along with the bullet he fired. He even lampshades how unlikely this was to happen. Ties in thematically with his Single Bullet Theory of love.
  • Foreshadowing
    • It's established early on that Arthur Delacroix was a skateboarding enthusiast, and later he is said to have owned a pretty valuable skateboard. In the end it turns out that's why he was killed; one of his friends bashed him in the head with the skateboard, because he wanted it.
    • Also, Bosch explains to Brasher as part of his It's Not You, It's My Enemies speech that he's topped out on the pension scale and additional time with the department will not improve his retirement and benefits, so he could walk at any time:
      "So 'plus-twenty-five' means you have some fuck-you room. You don't like what they're doing to you, you can always pull the pin and say have a nice day."
    • Brasher's Police Brutality joke.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Played with just short of being lampshaded. Driving out to Palm Springs, Bosch and Edgar choose roles:
    "Harry, you going to take the lead on this one, when we get there?"
    "Yeah, I'll take it. You can be the indignant one."
    • Bosch even has to go so far as to write Edgar a note telling him to "Cool it."
  • Hollywood Spelling: Averted.
    "Subperi—how do you spell that?" Bosch asked.
    "What does it matter? It will be in the report."
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Not normally a big part of Connelly's style, but some real groaners show up, all in-universe:
    • "The point is, this doctor says it was just a kid, Harry. So could you humor us and go check out this humerus?" Bosch didn’t respond, and Mank even apologized for it.
    • "To Protect and Surf" followed almost immediately by:
    • "I've been fishing all day and didn't catch a thing.... Microfiche mostly."
    • Bosch warns Brasher to keep their relationship a secret because "cops can be brutal," which she turns into a what even then was a pretty dark joke about Police Brutality (which it turns out, is Foreshadowing).
  • Insistent Terminology: Set decorator, not set designer. There's a difference.note 
  • Internal Affairs: As usual, IAD is screwing with Harry Bosch. In this novel, IAD is trying to determine who leaked the info about Nicholas Trent that led to Trent's suicide.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It's raining when Bosch attends the melancholy funeral of poor Arthur Delacroix.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Rare non-superhero version. Bosch warns Brasher that their relationship endangers her more than him, because IAD and others might come after him by ruining her career.
  • It Tastes Like Feet
    Edgar: This Church of Nature tea tastes like piss water.
    Bosch: How would you know what piss water tastes like?
  • Knuckle Tattoos: We learn that when Harry Bosch was young, he got knuckle tattoos that read "HOLD FAST". That's a Navy phrase, so when Bosch joined the Army as a teenager his sergeant told him to punch a brick wall until his tattoos were made invisible by scars.
  • Meet Cute: Bosch meets sexy beat cop Julia Brasher when she and her partner are called to assist at the report of bones in the hills.
  • Mid-Suicide Regret: Harry is called to the scene of a woman who hanged herself in her closet in a Bleak Abyss Retirement Home. Harry observes that the woman struggled to save herself, scratching so hard at the wall of the closet that she broke off two nails. He wonders where that determination to live was before she hung herself.
  • New Year Has Come: The book opens on New Year's Day as Bosch, at the scene of a suicide, reflects on how the holidays always lead to an increase in suicides. Later that day, Bosch gets the call about the bones in the hills.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: With her new TV series and diva attitude, Corazon appears to be representing any number of celebrity criminologists of the period, such as Dr. Michael Baden.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. Julia Brasher is shot in the shoulder. The bullet ricochets, and she rapidly bleeds to death.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Irving describes Bosch as a "shit-magnet," marking possibly the first time in the series that he has sworn. It leads directly to him telling Bosch to start thinking about retirement.
  • Pædo Hunt: According to the three page suicide note he left (naming "those found responsible" for his situation), Nicholas Trent felt like the target of one, leading to his suicide.
  • Parental Abandonment: Christine Delacroix was trapped in a bad marriage with an abusive husband—so she left one day and never came back. She left her six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son with said abusive husband.
  • Parental Incest: Samuel Delacroix routinely abused his young daughter Sheila.
  • Police Brutality: Upon seeing Brasher shot:
    Without a moment's hesitation Edgewood [Brasher's partner] stepped forward and delivered a vicious kick to Stokes's side.
    "You motherfucker!"
    He readied himself to do it again when Bosch yelled.
    • It's worth noting that at this point, Stokes is on the ground handcuffed and Edgewood has no valid reason at all to suspect he shot her. Bosch later refuses to let Brasher's uniformed pals take custody of Stokes, fearing for his life; instead taking him back to Hollywood Division and putting him in an interview room.
    • Edgewood eventually gets a second chance, alas.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: An amusing one when Bosch wonders what religion forbids coffee. While Sheila Delacroix isn't a Mormon, the "no caffeine" rule is one of the things about Mormonism that most people know. That someone as generally well-informed about the world around him as Bosch doesn't is pretty funny. He also doesn't know one of the most famous Eric Clapton songs of all time, so it's fully in-character.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: Bosch is offered a job back at Robbery-Homicide Division more than ten years after having been demoted from same. He chooses to retire instead.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Grace Billets continues to prove to be one, particularly in comparison with her predecessor Harvey Pounds; while she does acknowledge the potential budget and statistical impact of the bones case, she doesn't stop Harry from pursuing it.
    • Later, after Bosch receives word of his promotion to Robbery-Homicide, she does everything she can to ensure Harry can get the bones case closed before he leaves.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Forensic anthropologist Golliher states that one of the cases he has worked on previously was analyzing remains found at Ground Zero after 9/11.
  • Scar Survey: Julia Brasher asks Harry about his scars after sex. He has a scar from a knife wound suffered in the Vietnam War, and a bullet scar which he suffered during the novel The Black Echo. Bosch worries that it lead indirectly to Brasher's death.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Bosch, after Brasher is shot, takes Stokes out of harm's way for fear of what the other cops might do to him.
  • Seen It All: By this point in his career, Bosch has seen enough to correctly deduce from the unlocked door at Trent's house that he has killed himself. Combined somewhat with Awesome by Analysis.
  • Shout-Out
    • Another to Chinatown.
    • Edgar's belief that "all smells are particulate" may be one to The Ice Storm, which popularized that factoid a few years earlier.
    • Trent thinks Bosch and Edgar are representatives of Nineteen Eighty-Four's Big Brother.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Harry's jar full of ejected rifle shells from "every cop funeral he had ever attended."
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Technically, this is what Brasher is doing since Harry is a detective third grade and a supervisor. The gossip about Harry "fishing off the company dock" starts almost instantly.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: After several pages of very scientific and medically precise language like "subperiosteal," "subdural hematoma," and "zygomatic process," Golliher summarizes:
    "... in short, somebody beat the shit out of this boy on a regular basis."
  • Tempting Fate: Bosch says Stokes is "nothing" to his case, "a zero." Turns out, he killed Arthur Delacroix.
  • Title Drop: An LAPD forensics tech marks the crime scene out with a grid of strings, then calls it a "city of bones."
  • Thrill Seeker: Julia Brasher.
  • Twist Ending: Foreshadowing notwithstanding, when Harry pulls the pin, it's still quite a shock.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Alcohoic Samuel Delacroix barfs all over the back of Bosch and Edgar's squad car after he's arrested for murder.
  • Wham Line: "He could be charged under the felony-murder law."