Detective Harry Bosch cracks open a dead soldier's footlocker that for five decades has been collecting dust in a dark Southern California attic. In the glow of a flashlight, he finds a time capsule from Vietnam: books, a Zippo lighter, a cassette recorder and a roll of developed film stashed inside a camera.
He carefully unspools it, holds it up to the light, scans the image. He feels the familiar rush take hold, his purpose; he has a new case, a new mission.
The scene in best-selling author Michael Connelly's latest thriller, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, is pivotal for the iconic Los Angeles homicide detective — and for readers of Connelly's seminal mystery series.
It marks a transition not just in the latest case, but also in character development. For the first time since he was introduced in 1992's The Black Echo, Bosch is propelled through his own wartime experiences.
Connelly takes us with him. Into the tunnels of Cu Chi, onto a navy hospital ship in the East Vietnam Sea and back to home, accompanied by the ghosts of combat.
Certainly, we've gotten snippets of Bosch's past in earlier books. We know he volunteered to fight, came out of the war and joined the police department. But here Connelly fills in the backstory with critical depth and insight. What's more, it feels completely fresh.
In a particularly vivid sequence, Bosch explains to a fellow officer why he doubts a serial rapist has military training, and demonstrates with ease how to slice an enemy's throat from behind.
In a more subtle exchange, he gets in an argument with his now college-age daughter over his dislike of Vietnamese food. She calls it racist, tells him to get over it. He explains how eating the food sends him back to the jungles.
"You smell like what you eat. In enclosed spaces. It comes out of your pores. My job — I had to go into tunnels, and I didn't want the enemy to know I was there. So I ate their food every day, every meal, and I can't do that anymore. It brings it all back to me. Okay?"
The case that sends Bosch into the Wayback is unlike any he has tackled before. For starters, there's no murder to solve. But don't let that dissuade you. In Connelly's hands, the unconventional mystery is every bit as compelling as the familiar pursuits of killers. Maybe more so, because this one becomes so personal.
Now retired and ostracized from the Los Angeles Police Department, Bosch is once more trying his hand at private investigation, albeit with no office and no advertisements.
He is summoned to a powerful security company operated by a former LAPD commander whose client list is a Who's Who of Southern California elite. An aging billionaire, the sole heir to one of the state's biggest metal and mining fortunes, has apparently asked for Bosch by name and is willing to pay him $10,000 just to meet.
Swearing Bosch to secrecy, and codifying it with an unassailable confidentiality agreement, Whitney Vance confesses that as a teenager he might have fathered a child during an affair with a Mexican girl who disappeared after becoming pregnant in 1950. Vance has never stopped thinking about the girl. Now he is dying and wants to make things right. If the child can be found, he or she would stand to take control of a powerful corporation and inherit a fortune.
Vance hires Bosch to find someone who might not even exist. But he warns Bosch will be up against powerful business interests who will stop at nothing to prevent an heir from being found.
Bosch launches his investigation from his cubicle in the tiny, cash-strapped San Fernando Police Department, where he has taken a job as an unpaid reserve officer in the mostly Hispanic suburb north of the city on Interstate 5.
Ostensibly, Bosch is supposed to be working the city's cold cases. But the job gives him the power of the badge and allows him to tap police resources for his own cases, even if it is a firing offense.
His most pressing investigation involves a vicious serial rapist targeting Hispanic women. Bosch, working with another detective, has connected several cases to a perpetrator they have dubbed the "Screen Cutter" for his method of entering his victims' homes.
The rapist appears to have intimate knowledge of his victims, and is seemingly targeting his attacks to coincide with their menstrual cycles. Bosch, knowing the rapist is on the cusp of graduating to murder, becomes convinced that the key to stopping him lies in determining how he chooses his targets.
Connelly enlists the help of familiar and welcome characters, including Bosch's half-brother, Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, who navigates the byzantine world of wills and probate court with his trademark cynicism and legal chicanery.
Connelly almost seems at his best when Bosch is uneasy, out of his element, fighting against the system for justice.
It is impossible for Connelly to tell a bad story. Moving effortlessly between Bosch's private and public cases, he ratchets up the tension. Connelly's usual contempt for money and power emerge large in this book, but he never resorts to preaching.
Connelly understands the forceful dynamic of the 1% and uses it to great effect, pulling off in the final few chapters a California noir sleight of hand that would make Ross Macdonald envious.
This is Los Angeles, after all, a city where money always wins.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye follows last year's The Crossing, a superb novel that chronicled Bosch's first outing as a private investigator following his most recent retirement from LAPD. It also echoes his 2003 book, Lost Light, with its moody sensibility and classic crime themes.
The publication coincides with this month's announcement that the popular Amazon series Bosch has been picked up for a fourth season, with the third scheduled for release in early 2017.