Books by Michael Connelly:
The Black Echo (1992)
The Black Ice (1993)
The Concrete Blonde (1994)
The Last Coyote (1995)
The Poet (1996)*
Trunk Music (1997)
Blood Work (1998)*
Angels Flight (1999)
* Not part of the Harry Bosch series
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Unlike many authors who've pursued crime fiction writing as a second career or hobby, Michael Connelly has known since he was in college that he would be a mystery novelist. As a student at the University of Florida he chose journalism as the career that would best prepare him for this role -- it involved writing and provided him the opportunity to observe criminal investigation, human reaction to danger and violence, and political corruption. While most young reporters aspire to leave the police beat as soon as possible, Connelly stuck with it, moving from papers in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale to the Los Angeles Times. On the way, he was part of a reporting team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the Orlando Sun-Sentinel's coverage of the aftermath of the 1985 crash of Delta Flight 131.
Meanwhile, at night and on weekends, he was writing fiction. He abandoned two manuscripts half-finished. His third book, The Black Echo, was published in 1992. It won the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America.
Since then it's been success upon success for Connelly and his protagonist, Los Angeles police detective Hieronymous ("Harry") Bosch. Grim, hardworking, and ironic, Bosch is a loner surrounded by the flawed, the lazy, the incompetent, the mean, the unethical, and the downright evil. As he tries to do his job, unraveling mysteries and discovering killers, people who are supposed to be on his own team are often trying to unravel -- and sometimes even kill -- him. Even though Bosch ultimately catches the killers, beauty and security continue to elude him. The women he loves leave; the 1994 earthquake damages his modest home in the hills above Studio City; old friends turn out to be corrupted by greed and hate. A drinker, smoker, and insomniac, he finds solace in listening to jazz.
Readers who followed Bosch from The Black Echo through The Black Ice (1993) and The Concrete Blonde (1994) were richly rewarded when, in The Last Coyote (1995), Connelly paid homage to Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles of the 1940s and 1950s. In that novel, Bosch digs back through city records and people's memories to discover his late mother's dangerous liaison with a city power broker and how this led to her unsolved murder.
In 1995, Connelly changed his pace, coming out with a high-powered thriller, The Poet. While a disappointment to many Bosch fans, The Poet was a roaring success in its own genre, with reviewers comparing Connelly to Silence of the Lambs author Thomas Harris. In The Poet, an embittered journalist investigating the death of his police officer brother is stalked by a twisted aficionado of Internet child porn and betrayed at every turn by the officials he thought would help him. In Connelly's subsequent thriller, Blood Work (1998), an ex-FBI agent recovering from a heart transplant sets out to investigate the unsolved murder of the woman whose heart he received, and becomes a murder suspect himself.
With Trunk Music (1997), Connelly returned to the Bosch series, taking his hero into mob territory -- Las Vegas -- where he investigates the murder of an LA businessman with ties to organized crime. He is unexpectedly reunited with Eleanor Wish, who had first appeared as a FBI agent in The Black Echo but is now making her living as a card sharp. Eleanor returns to Los Angeles with him, but in the very first paragraph of Connelly's latest book, Angels Flight, you realize that their new marriage is already in danger of shattering.
Forty-two-year-old Connelly is a low-key, clear-spoken man who has much of the same focused approach to writing that Harry Bosch has to police work. He hastens to say that his life as a husband and new father is far different from the lives of his protagonists. But it's clear that he, just like his readers, is fascinated by, and loyal to, Harry Bosch. Connelly says his ambition is to write at least six more books about Bosch -- but to also continue experimenting with writing techniques through the thriller genre. His next book, for instance, is a non-series novel about a woman involved in the Las Vegas underworld.
Karen G. Anderson: How did you make the leap from your highly demanding job as a reporter on a major metropolitan daily to being a professional novelist? How did you carve out the time to write your first Harry Bosch book, The Black Echo?
Michael Connelly: I had stayed on the police beat because I hoped it would help me learn the world I wanted to write about. At the time I didn't have kids. I went to my wife and said that I wanted to work on the book nights and at least one weekend day, every week. Her support was a key thing to getting that first book done.
I guess I lived two lives. I didn't even quit my job until after The Concrete Blonde, though I took a leave-of-absence to write some of it. When I was done I realized it was pretty hard to do both of these things... and at that point I was making enough money from the books that I could replace my salary. I try never to lose sight that I've been extremely lucky in that way.
After four highly acclaimed police procedurals about Harry Bosch, you switched genres and moved into thrillers with The Poet. Why?
I didn't consciously switch genres. I just write the kinds of stories I want to read, and they get classified -- by publishers, reviewers, and everybody. Some are seen as police procedurals, some are seen as thrillers, whatever. The constant dilemma for me as a writer is how to keep from getting stale. Some of the best series have hit potholes and some of them never recovered. You search around for possible ways of avoiding slumping. One of the things that I decided to do was to take breaks from my series, and it was from that decision that books like The Poet and Blood Work arose.
Writing about Harry Bosch is my main work as a writer; books like Blood Work and The Poet are tools I use to make sure that Harry Bosch is alive and fresh. On my "year off" from Harry Bosch I do something different. I try to challenge myself in some way. For example, in The Poet I wrote in first-person. I also had chapters that took place in the mind of the bad guy, which I'd never done before.
Are there aspects of working in the thriller genre that you like better -- or less well -- than working in the mystery genre?
To me it's all the same stuff, I don't really see a big difference in the process. I do have to say that the publishing industry knows how to gear up and market a so-called thriller. I live with this irony -- Harry Bosch is the character I remain fascinated with and have hopes and plans for, but the two books I did on my years off are far and away the most successful. When you give a book like Poet or Blood Work to the publishing machine, they really know how to take it and run with it.
You mentioned in the FAQ on your Web site that you collect Los Angeles crime fiction in first editions. Do you read any of the noir crime fiction set in Europe, such as Nicholas Freeling's books, set in France and Belgium, or Philip Kerr's work about Nazi Germany?
I try to read whatever comes out about Los Angeles, and I've read the Berlin trilogy by Kerr, which I liked a lot.
I mentioned Freeling and Kerr because they are both outstanding crime fiction writers who also write thrillers. Walter Mosley, creator of the Easy Rawlins series set in LA, has also moved out of crime fiction. He went from the Easy Rawlins series to some general fiction, and has just published his first book of science fiction, Blue Light. Have you considered -- or are you considering -- writing other types of fiction besides mysteries and thrillers?
Definitely not science fiction; I've just never been a reader of that. Actually, I don't even see myself writing what's called general fiction. I've always liked the element of a mystery in books. I try never to say "never" about anything, but I'm satisfied with what you can do writing crime novels. Whatever you want to do with a character you can definitely do it in this genre.
The people around Harry Bosch are at worst corrupt and at best, flawed. Do you think that characters like Bosch are fated to be lonely heroes?
I think they are. From the standpoint of the writer behind the story, the secret is conflict. And it can't just be the conflict of who killed whom. It's got to be personal. You have to have your character hit obstacles at every level of their life. The best way to keep this conflict going is to establish a world in which he has to rely on himself. I've started out with exterior obstacles -- the lieutenant in The Black Echo -- and moved to interior obstacles, which are more insidious.
Is that why, when Trunk Music ends with Bosch going off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams, there was this feeling of doom -- that it just won't work out for this guy?
I'm glad you got the feeling of doom; Trunk Music ends on a very optimistic note. I knew, as I wrote that, that wasn't going to last. He has to have lots of conflict in his life.
It makes it interesting for me. I have a very normal life, with a family. I've written six books with Bosch and I hope I will write six more. If I took Harry from Trunk Music to a life of domestic bliss while he's out there solving murders, its wouldn't work. But I have to throw Harry a bone, the way I did in Trunk Music, for putting up with me.
In Angels Flight he hits the emotional low of the whole series, but by the end, hope comes to him in the form of a fortune he reads in a matchbook. Even though this book is as dark as I've written, by the end I think Harry's getting his balance back.
He sounded very vulnerable at the beginning Angels Flight -- the opening paragraphs would really strike a chord for most women.
Yes, there is a little bit of role reversal in the relationship between Harry and Eleanor. He's wondering what's happening to her. That was a device to get the crime plot going, but I also wanted to announce from the very beginning that if you'd read Trunk Music and it ended on a high note, we're well past that now.
What is your relationship to Los Angeles -- are you still discovering it?
It pretty much heated up by my being a reporter. My job took to me many corners of the city. LA is many distinct communities, and there's not a lot of movement between them. In the 12 years I've lived here, I've had the opportunity to see a lot more of these communities than most people who've lived here a longer time.
It's a hard city to get a handle on. I have a good feel for the physical geography, but I'm not sure I have a good feel for the social geography.
Do you feel you have a responsibility to Los Angeles, or at least its image? A lot of people are getting a feeling for contemporary Los Angeles from reading your books, the way they got a feeling for it in the 1940s from reading Chandler.
I had that feeling when I wrote The Last Coyote, which was post-earthquake. Two things have really shaped the city: one was the earthquake and the other was the Rodney King incident and the riots in 1992. I felt a responsibility to write about what it's been like to live here after the place has been shaken -- by an earthquake or by a riot.
I didn't write about the racial tensions too much until Angels Flight, and that had sort of bothered me, because I wanted my writing to reflect contemporary Los Angeles.
Florida has been a very popular setting for recent mystery novels. Since it's where you went to school and where you first worked as a journalist, do you think you'll write about it?
Florida? I probably won't. There are already lots of good writers there, and the other thing is, I really like to live where I'm writing, to be able to go out and look at the community. And I don't think I'll live in Florida again -- though Harry Bosch did go there to visit. And the first two books that I tried to write were set in Florida.
What are you writing now?
The book I'm writing now, 40 per cent of it is taking place in Las Vegas -- so I've been going there a lot. I'm not writing about Harry Bosch -- the challenge I've set myself this time is that it's about a female protagonist. She's from Los Angeles and goes to Las Vegas to do a burglary. There's a link between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. After Rodney King, a lot of LAPD cops, a lot of the cops I know, took retirement and moved there.
I think I have a fascination for Las Vegas -- it's something about what they've created and how they've sold it to America. They say it's the new family playground, but some of the old ways are still at work. | February 1999
KAREN G. ANDERSON writes regularly about crime fiction for January Magazine.
You can find more information about Michael Connelly and his novels at the author's Web site.