It's shaping up to be an epic year for novelist Michael Connelly. First a movie version of The Lincoln Lawyer, his first legal thriller to feature Mickey Haller, was released. Then his fourth Haller novel, The Fifth Witness, zoomed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and soon Connelly's 24th novel will be published. The Drop, a new police procedural featuring Harry Bosch, has the LAPD detective juggling multiple cases while the specter of retirement looms (Bosch has aged in real time; he'll be 60 years old when The Drop comes out).
Talking with Connelly, 54, in late April at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books seemed particularly appropriate given that his fictional universe is set almost entirely in this sprawling, iconic city.
Born in Philadelphia, Connelly considers himself a Floridian, but he came west to write about crime for the Los Angeles Times in the late 1980s. "The contradiction of the place is the thing about Los Angeles," he says. "On my first day at the Times one of my editors said, ‘L.A. is a sunny place for shady people.'"
Which makes it a perfect place for a crime novelist—and that's exactly what Connelly wanted to be. He'd studied journalism at the University of Florida, but he had "an ulterior motive" for becoming a crime reporter, first in Florida and subsequently in L.A.: "I wanted to learn about the worlds I wanted to write about in fiction."
Connelly published his first book in 1992. The Black Echo introduced Harry Bosch, and it won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1993. Over the next 19 years, Connelly averaged well over a book a year, mostly police procedurals featuring Harry Bosch, with a few stand-alone titles like Blood Work (1998) and Chasing the Dime (2002). The Lincoln Lawyer (2005) was a stand-alone that turned into what may become Connelly's most popular franchise; there are four Mickey Haller novels, with more to come.
Because Connelly is "a journalist at heart," his books resonate with a deep understanding of police and legal procedures as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of Los Angeles. Connelly's also a master plotter, with two powerful, compelling main characters—Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller—compelling in completely different ways.
Harry Bosch is an almost archetypal noir character, an outsider, doggedly determined, with a complex backstory, a dark past. But as a detective in the LAPD, "he is part of the structure," says Connelly. "He carries a badge. I'm always trying to make him into a loner. There's a lot of thematic aloneness in our lives."
Bosch put Connelly on the map; but Mickey Haller is another path to the bestseller list. (The Lincoln Lawyer is Connelly's bestselling novel of all time.) Connelly says that Haller is "newer, more complicated, and harder to like than Bosch. He keeps changing and that creates opportunities for books."
Connelly acknowledges that success "takes a team. Keeping your head down and just writing is only part of the equation, so I surround myself with smart people to help sell my books." He and his team have been inventive. He bundled a music CD with one novel for in-store promotions, a DVD with another. Fans can download a free iPhone app with news and information about the books. Connelly maintains a Facebook page and a rich and comprehensive Web site (www.michaelconnelly.com).
"When you get into this," Connelly muses, "you have no idea how long you can write stories." Right now, Connelly shows no signs of slowing down. He's planning another Mickey Haller novel, and Bosch is only nearing retirement, with Los Angeles, no doubt, continuing to generate fodder. W.H. Auden called Los Angeles "the Great Wrong Place." For Connelly, L.A. has turned into the Great Right Place.
Tim Peters is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif.