Culture

To Binge or to Bail: Deconstructing Amazon's 'Bosch'

Scott Wilson and Titus Welliver in ‘Bosch’/Image © Amazon Studios

In a scene from the pilot of the new Amazon streaming series "Bosch," the show's eponymous detective, Harry Bosch (played by actor Titus Welliver), looks on as forensic techs excavate a skeleton from a shallow grave. "City of Bones," he says, reading aloud from a tech's clipboard. To which she responds by explaining that investigators use string to lay out a grind pattern across the grave, much like city blocks, to help identify just where each piece of evidence is found. "And every murder is the tale of a city," Bosch notes. The obvious double meaning also applies to his hometown of Los Angeles, where he works solving murders as a member of the LAPD. A few moments later, someone asks Bosch if he thinks his grisly aphorism is true. "Yeah, I do," he says.

It's the type of scene in the same vein of dark and heady detective shows that have been all the rage lately (See "True Detective," "The Fall," "Luther," "The Killing," "The Bridge," et cetera). It's also classic Bosch, a character who has been around for nearly a quarter of a century, but is only now getting adapted.

Created by best-selling mystery writer Michael Connelly, Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch (named after the fifteenth-century Dutch painter of the same name) first appeared as the protagonist in Connelly's 1992 debut novel, The Black Echo, and has been the main character in sixteen more of Connelly's novels (the most recent of which was published just this past November). A Vietnam veteran, Bosch was a "tunnel rat" in the war (a soldier who cleared underground enemy bases) and joined the LAPD soon after returning home. Much of the Bosch books have delved into the character's experience as a veteran, as well as his traumatic childhood. Such a backstory gives Bosch a quiet - yet still wounded - demeanor, along with a harder edge than most other fictional detectives. His drive as an investigator has always been one to solve the case to seek justice for the victims, refusing to suffer fools or play department politics along the way (and sometimes even cutting procedural corners).

Such an enthralling main character, coupled with Connelly's knack for realistically depicting a police investigation (he was after all a crime reporter both in Florida and Los Angeles for years before publishing fiction), create a series of solid page-turners that have won a slew of awards and have debuted at the number-one spot on The New York Time' bestseller list for years.

Connelly initially sold the rights for the Harry Bosch character as a feature film in the early 1990s to Paramount, which failed to develop any movies out of the first three novels. They then sat on the rights for more than a decade. In that time, Connelly broke through to mainstream success as a bestselling author and saw his novels Blood Work and The Lincoln Lawyer (which feature Bosch's half-brother, criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller) adapted into major motion pictures. The success allowed Connelly to buy back the rights to his most famous and prolific character in 2012 and have a direct hand in developing the series for Amazon.

"Bosch" is Amazon's first foray into serious crime drama for its original streaming programming. The pilot, which you can watch for free, was first uploaded in early 2014 as a preview for viewers to decide if a full series should be ordered (as per the practice of Amazon Studios) and quickly generated enough positive feedback that the full season run of ten episodes was ordered. The next nine episodes are due to be uploaded for viewing by Amazon Prime members all at once on February 13.

Based on the pilot and season one trailer, which was released last month, the show appears to be an amalgamation of at least two of Connelly's Bosch novels: 1994's The Concrete Blonde and 2002's City of Bones. The series begins with Bosch as a defendant in a civil trial for a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the widow of a suspected serial killer he killed in the line of duty. At the same time, Bosch finagles his way into heading up a case involving the bones of a young boy murdered decades before.

This Harry Bosch is younger than the one in the books. No longer a Vietnam vet pushing into his mid-sixties, but a late-forties ex-special forces soldier who had served in the first Gulf War and rejoined for a tour in Afghanistan after 9/11. And that's where the differences pretty much end. From Titus Welliver's solid performance in capturing the character's irreverent attitude and subtle signs of the obsession that's just beneath the surface to minor details from the novels, like Bosch's habit of keeping photos of victims from cases he never solved under the glass tabletop of his desk, as well as prominently featuring Los Angeles to the point that it's practically a supporting player (something showrunner and pilot co-writer Eric Overmyer, a veteran of shows like "Treme" and "The Wire," has no problem doing), the series faithfully brings to life Connelly's words - in spirit, tone, plot, and most importantly, character.

If you're a fan of brooding detective stories with depth, and looking for your next series on which to binge, Harry Bosch is your man.