Bestselling crime novelist Michael Connelly, 52, says that his inspiration “was always wrapped up in Los Angeles, even though I’d never been there.”It was reading quintessential L.A. master Raymond Chandler that made him try to write his own book; he wrote two novels, later scrapped, while working as a crime reporter in Florida (where he grew up), but success came only after he finally got to L.A.
At the age of 30, Connelly arrived in Los Angeles to work the crime beat for the L.A. Times. Three years later, in 1992, Little, Brown published The Black Echo, the first in what would become Connelly’s long-running series starring LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. A Vietnam vet whose dogged pursuit of the truth often finds him at odds with his colleagues and superiors in the police department, Bosch is a modern incarnation of the noir heroes that inspired Connelly. Little, Brown (where Connelly has stayed his entire career), will release The Brass Verdict, Connelly’s 19th novel and the first to feature both Bosch and a new Connelly hero, defense attorney Mickey Haller. Bosch and Haller, predisposed to distrust each other’s profession, grudgingly work together in The Brass Verdict to solve a high-profile double murder that could be the biggest case of both their careers.
Bosch and Haller aren’t just a random cop and lawyer pairing. Connelly likes to populate his novels with characters that hop from one book to another, either for brief cameos or as key players. He first laid the groundwork for the Bosch/Haller connection in 1993’s The Black Ice when it’s revealed that the two men have the same father. Twelve years later, in 2005’s The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller appears as a wily defense attorney. “I go back and look at the stuff I’ve written and look for things that I can bring forward,” Connelly says.
As well as fame in the L.A.-based fiction scene, Connelly has impressed the real-world brass of the LAPD. “I’m always surprised,” he says, “when people who do this stuff for a living want to read a fictional take by somebody who’s not even a cop and hasn’t walked in their shoes.” But Connelly is hardly a stranger to the police beat; he worked as a crime reporter for more than 10 years. One of the best compliments he’s received is a badge from the LAPD police chief in recognition of his portrayal of Los Angeles police officers. Connelly is quick to say, though, that “it’s a framed thing, not something I can carry.”
Sources are an integral part of his writing process, and Connelly, who left journalism in 1994, says that his old sources are largely retired. “Most of the people who help with my books now are people I didn’t know when I was a reporter.” He culls them from members of law enforcement who post comments on his Web site or who attend book signings and offer their help. Getting recognized by someone who actually does the work is “right up there with getting a good review,” he says.
Though he strives for accuracy in the procedural aspects of his work, the soft-spoken Connelly admits that he writes characters who are his opposite. “I’ve been married for a long time,” he says, “but I don’t think I’ve ever written about a guy who’s happily married.” The majority of Connelly regulars are searchers: for truth, the best defense, love and sometimes all three. As Bosch has evolved—even overcoming his distrust of technology to own an iPod—he’s also aged. “At first, I thought it was a good idea,” says Connelly, “but maybe it wasn’t such a smart thing to do.” In The Black Echo, Bosch was a little over 40, and Connelly had the character age as the series progressed “because I wanted to be able to show his evolution over time, as well as the changes in the city, in politics and within the police department.”
But there aren’t too many detectives running around the LAPD who are over 65. Even though he says he could always go back in time or have Bosch try his hand at PI work, Connelly prefers “the forward progression of the series with Harry as a cop” even though that “has a shelf life that’s running out.”
Harry Bosch never wavers from his motto that everybody counts or nobody counts. Connelly muses about whether or not Mickey Haller has a matching credo. He promises to think about it. Sure enough, he responds a few days later: “I still don’t have one, but on the cynical side of the equation, Haller’s motto might just be the mantra that every defense attorney has: keep your mouth shut.”