Re: RARA-AVIS: Michael Connelly

From: John Williams (
Date: 20 Mar 2008

Just doing a little spring cleaning on the PC and I found this short piece about Michael Connelly I wrote when the Poet came out, 1996, I think. Nothing very remarkable in my bits, but it provides some background for new readers and the man himself has some interesting stuff to say, so here you go. It's a phone interview by the way, I've never had the pleasure of meeting him in person.


Michael Connolly (GQ)

One might be forgiven for thinking that Los Angeles crime fiction is stuck in a timewarp. A timewarp where Raymond Chandler is still the guv'nor and an endless stream of Philip Marlowe clones still walk those mean streets. A timewarp in which even the city's finest contemporary writers - James Ellroy and Walter Mosley - are best known for novels set back in the forties and fifties.


Well, Michael Connelly is doing his bit to change all that. His series of LA cop novels featuring the exravagantly monikered Harry - short for Heironymous, natch - Bosch are as sharp and convincing as they come. But then, as Connelly explained to me, his day job gave him something of a headstart, "I worked as a crime reporter both in Florida, where I grew up, and in LA, where I"ve lived since I was thirty, and that's where I got the background for the books."


Was he not tempted, as so may U.S. crime reporters have been, to turn his hand to the immensely popular true crime format, rather than the riskier field of fiction? "Well, I was writing true crime all the time for the newspaper, and I guess I assumed some day I'd get my hands on a really good case which I could turn into a book, but it never happened. The first Harry Bosch novel, _The Black Echo_, was loosely based on a real case - a bank job in which the perepetrators used tunnels - but it was never solved. So I couldn't write a true crime book about that, but I could use it as the basis for fiction."


And so he did. In _The Black Echo_ the tunnellers turn out to be a gang of Vietnam Vets who'd acquired their skills the hard way, during the war in the tunnels of Cu Chi. And what follows is both a gripping urban thriller and a subtle working-out of the legacy of Vietnam on the streets of America.


So was Connelly himself a veteran? "No, the draft cut off the year before I would have been eligible. But I went through high school thinking it was my destiny to go, so it had an impact on me. And making Bosch a veteran was simply a reflection of the high number of detectives I knew who were Vietnam vets. Bosch is an amalgam of many cops I've known. And he's the opposite of me."


For his latest novel, _The Poet_, however, Connelly has decided to take a break from Bosch, and has instead written an unusually thoughtful and unsettling serial killer novel. One that focusses firmly on the role of the hunters: "I tried to make the hunt more interesting than the actual killer," confirms Connelly, "I didn't want to spend a whole lot of time with the killer".


And perhaps that's what marks out Connelly from the pack. For while, in these post-Tarantino times, novelists and screenwriters seem endlessly obsessed with creating exotic and charismatic villains, Connelly is firmly on the side of the angels.


"In my time as a crime reporter:" comments Connelly, "I've found the cops more interesting than the perpetrators. They have a very tough job and they only become well known if they screw up. I think it's kind of a noble calling. While I think, in reality, criminals are not that interesting. Writers like James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard can create these fascinating bad guys, but I don't think there are that many in real life."


Neither may there be all that many cops named Heironymous or serial killers, like the Poet, who like to quote from Edgar Alan Poe, but still Connelly's combination of a novelist's imagination and a crime reporter's fund of inside information, look set to make him one of the key names in nineties crime writing.

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