“Ideas come to me in dreams and wake me up,” says crime writer Michael Connelly. “Sometimes, I’ll get up in the middle of the night and write them down. I always have a laptop next to my bed.” It’s the day before his 65th birthday, and Connelly, who has a naturally gravelly speaking voice that recalls a noir detective, is at home in Los Angeles, reflecting over Zoom on the work that has gone into producing 37 books in 30 years. “It helps that I don’t need a lot of sleep,” he says.
Connelly is best known for his Harry Bosch series, which stars a relentless LAPD detective—now retired but still pursuing leads—whom Connelly calls his alter ego, and the Mickey Haller series, about a criminal defense attorney (aka the Lincoln Lawyer) who uses his car as an office.
Connelly’s books have sold over 80 million copies and been translated into 43 languages, according to his publisher, Little, Brown. They’ve been adapted into numerous films and television series. Connelly was the executive producer and writer on the Amazon series Bosch, which recently wrapped its seventh and final season, and he’s an executive producer and writer on an as-yet-untitled Bosch spin-off. He’s also executive producing a Lincoln Lawyer series, created by David E. Kelley, that’s in production at Netflix. And he narrates and writes scripts for two true crime podcasts.
Connelly’s new novel, The Dark Hours, out in November from Little, Brown, is the fourth installment in the Renée Ballard series, which stars a female LAPD detective who works the midnight shift. The series began in 2017 with The Late Show, and, since 2018’s Dark Sacred Night, has featured both Ballard and Bosch. In The Dark Hours, the pair try to connect a New Year’s Eve killing to an older case.
Ballard, the first of Connelly’s female characters to lead her own series, is based on real-life detective Mitzi Roberts, whom Connelly has known for 15 years and who helps him understand what it’s like to be a female detective. “She’s given me gold,” Connelly says. “Women in her situation have to constantly prove themselves when men don’t, and I want to get that right in my books.”
Connelly is friends with many members of law enforcement and relies on their expertise to fuel his fiction. The Dark Hours feels urgent, as it tackles everything from how officers interact with homeless people during the pandemic to the conversations they have around defunding the police. The author employs cops as consultants—they read his manuscripts and are advisers on his shows—and he uses a retired private detective as a researcher. “We golf together and eat together,” he says of these friends. “We sit and talk about things from baseball to how to solve a murder.”
“Michael does an enormous amount of research to make sure he gets things right,” says his editor at Little, Brown, Asya Muchnick. “He holds himself to a high standard. As a reader you feel like you can trust him.”
Adds his manager, Heather Rizzo: “He’s tireless. He makes a point of having a lot of breakfasts with cops and detectives, and he listens to everyone at the table, and it comes out in his writing.”
Born in Philadelphia, Connelly grew up there and in Florida, where, at 16, he witnessed a man trying to hide a gun in some bushes. It was an experience that sparked an interest in crime and the novels of Raymond Chandler.
In 1984 he married his wife, Linda, and then, in 1987, he took a job as a crime beat reporter at the Los Angeles Times, where he worked for years while writing fiction at night—sometimes in a walk-in closet in the couple’s apartment. “When you don’t have a lot of money and live in L.A., chances are you live near a freeway,” Connelly explains. “I played jazz to obliterate the noise, then moved into the closet because there were no windows in there.”
In 1992, Connelly published his debut, The Black Echo, which featured Bosch. “He’s the guy who brought me into this world of storytelling,” Connelly reflects. “He’s been there from the start.”
Connelly calls Bosch, who turns 71 this year, an elder statesman who’s “aging out of the reality of investigative work.” By pairing him with Ballard, Connelly gets to keep telling his story. “I’m not near 71 yet, but I want to write about this guy at age 71,” he says.
That rare breed of writer who can write smart books quickly, Connelly no doubt will be delivering them for years to come. “In the critical community, there’s this idea that for anything to be great it has to take a long time, and that’s bullshit,” he says. “The books I’ve written the fastest might be my best efforts. If it’s coming fast, that to me is a good thing.”
“With all of Michael’s success, you’d think he couldn’t fit his hat on his head, but he’s the same wonderful human being,” says Connelly’s longtime Hollywood agent, Joel Gotler.
Adds his entertainment attorney, Diane Golden: “He’s the hardest working by a mile, and the most humble and loyal. Joel and I adore him personally and professionally. It sounds sycophantic, but it’s true.”
One of Connelly’s early showbiz deals came in the 1990s when Paramount bought the rights to Harry Bosch, but the projects stalled, and, in 2011, Connelly paid $3 million to get the rights back. “I can’t tell you how unusual that is,” Gotler says. “In Hollywood, everyone’s looking for someone else to write a check. Michael bet on himself, and it paid off.”
These days, Connelly feels like the “deputy mayor of a little town” who’s at the center of a community of individuals working on shows based on his characters—they include his daughter, who works on the Bosch spin-off. “Over the course of a season, we probably employ 250 people who are making a living from some idea I had,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
Swedish producer Henrik Bastin of Fabel Entertainment, the force behind the Amazon Bosch series and its spin-off, has such a deep connection to Connelly’s fiction that he named his firstborn son Harry—years before he met Connelly in 2012. “I discovered L.A. through Michael’s books,” Bastin says. “I have endless respect for him. Everyone should have a Michael Connelly in their lives.”
While Hollywood’s been good to Connelly, publishing remains the priority. “I don’t know who said it, either Mark Twain or Michael Jordan, but they’re both credited with saying, ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get,’ and I believe that. You work hard, and the breaks come. It’s happened to me more than a few times.”
Elaine Szewczyk’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s and other publications. She’s the author of the novel I’m with Stupid.