Watch­ing the de­tec­tive

Michael Con­nelly has been writ­ing about LA de­tec­tives for decades, but his 30th novel breaks new ground for the mod­ern-day king of crime.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Craig Sis­ter­son

Michael Con­nelly has been writ­ing about LA de­tec­tives for decades, but his 30th novel breaks new ground for the mod­ern-day king of crime.

The mid­day sun shines bright on Venice Beach as Re­nee Bal­lard dozes in her ny­lon tent, a few strides from the cobalt sheen of the Pa­cific Ocean. Her eight-foot pad­dle­board rests on the warm sand. The key to her panel van is buried be­neath Lola, her res­cue dog, who stands sen­try.

Bal­lard usu­ally pad­dles in the morn­ing, then sleeps through the af­ter­noon. But the Hawai­ian-born ex-surfer is no Cal­i­for­nia beach bum. At night, she straps on her hol­ster and puts her­self in harm’s way. For Re­nee Bal­lard is an LAPD de­tec­tive on Hol­ly­wood’s midnight shift – “the Late Show”.

Michael Con­nelly has been writ­ing about Los An­ge­les de­tec­tives for most of his life, first as a Los An­ge­les Times re­porter, then as a mys­tery nov­el­ist who fuses lit­er­ary qual­ity and pop­u­lar­ity.

His man­tel­piece over­flows with ev­ery ma­jor crime writ­ing award and he’s sold more than 60 mil­lion books thanks to his in­tel­li­gent page-turn­ers told through the eyes of such char­ac­ters as re­lent­less in­ves­ti­ga­tor Hierony­mus “Harry” Bosch and mav­er­ick lawyer Mickey Haller.

But Con­nelly has never be­fore writ­ten a se­ries cen­tre­piece like Re­nee Bal­lard, star of his 30th novel, The Late Show. “When I fin­ished, I just knew with­out a doubt that I’m go­ing to be writ­ing about Re­nee again,” says Con­nelly from his home in Florida. “She’s very in­ter­est­ing to me.”

The acorn that grew into The Late Show was planted sev­eral years ago, courtesy of Con­nelly’s friend Mitzi Roberts. One of the LAPD’s lead­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors, De­tec­tive Roberts has hunted se­rial killers, has cracked cold cases and is known as “a closer” on big cases. She’s also a tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant for Bosch, the smash-hit Ama­zon show based on Con­nelly’s most fa­mous char­ac­ter.

“Mitzi’s re­ally in­spir­ing, the way she goes about her job,” says Con­nelly. “Ever since I’ve known her, she’s been in homi­cide, but she told me how she spent time work­ing the midnight shift in Hol­ly­wood Di­vi­sion. The thing that re­ally struck me was that – con­trary to what you’d ex­pect – the de­tec­tive on the midnight shift of­ten works alone. And I thought, ‘That’s in­ter­est­ing; a lot can hap­pen when you work alone’ – like a pri­vate eye sort of thing. It was re­ally in­trigu­ing.”

Then last year, Con­nelly was about to hit 60 years old – the age at which his father died. “I felt that ar­tis­ti­cally I should do some­thing and not just fin­ish out my ca­reer al­ter­nat­ing be­tween Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch … kind of like an artis­tic duty. Maybe that sounds ego­tis­ti­cal, but it was an idea I’d car­ried around for a while, and when my 60th birth­day started be­ing like a black cloud over my head, it all kind of came to­gether. I thought, ‘It’s time to write about the Late Show.’”

In The Late Show, Re­nee Bal­lard has a part­ner but of­ten works alone. She starts cases, but rarely fin­ishes them. It’s pun­ish­ment duty for her; she tor­pe­doed her once-promis­ing ca­reer by fil­ing a sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim against her su­per­vi­sor in the elite Rob­bery Homi­cide Di­vi­sion.

But when a transwoman is beaten into a coma and a bar worker is caught up in a night­club shoot­ing, Bal­lard finds it hard to let go. So she works both cases by day while do­ing her own shift at night, ig­nor­ing or­ders and her part­ner’s wishes. The cases ex­pose her own demons and re­veal her rea­sons for stick­ing with the job de­spite what the LAPD hurls at her.

“There’s this idea that she would hand ev­ery­thing off at the end of the shift, which is the pro­to­col and the tra­di­tion, and the job,” says Con­nelly. “It’s my job as a writer to ex­am­ine things, so I thought, ‘What about a de­tec­tive who just can’t let some stuff go, who’s too per­son­ally in­volved in some way, who has some kind of mo­ti­va­tion to try to keep the cases?’ That’s when you start get­ting into the grist­mill of pretty good fic­tion, so it all

set up nicely.”

Al­though he’s of­ten had strong fe­male char­ac­ters in his nov­els, it’s the first time since ex-con Cassie Black in Void Moon (1999) that a fe­male char­ac­ter has car­ried the nar­ra­tive. The switch in viewpoint was made eas­ier by the real-life De­tec­tive Roberts.

“I have this amaz­ingly in­spi­ra­tional woman who’s done the work I’m writ­ing about. She’s telling me about it as I’m writ­ing; we’d text mul­ti­ple times a day, go out to break­fast. Ev­ery writer should have a liv­ing re­search sub­ject at their fin­ger­tips when­ever you have a ques­tion.

“I got a new-found re­spect for the difficulty of be­ing a fe­male de­tec­tive in a world that is very male dom­i­nated. The kind of sub­tle nu­ances re­quired to make it through, to be suc­cess­ful.

“And that’s kind of a pitch over the plate for me; I love the idea of writ­ing about char­ac­ters where the ob­sta­cles are within their own depart­ment, where

He’s al­ways been fas­ci­nated by crime, and ad­mits he’s won­dered whether he could have been a real-life de­tec­tive.

you’ve got to fight your way through those ob­sta­cles be­fore you can even get to solv­ing the case. That’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me.”

Con­nelly says he’s al­ways been fas­ci­nated by crime and ad­mits he’s won­dered whether he could have been a real-life de­tec­tive him­self.

“But I didn’t have the tem­per­a­ment to get there. Back when I was in my twen­ties, you had to go through years of be­ing in uni­form be­fore you qual­i­fied as a de­tec­tive, and that part had zero ap­peal to me.

“Solv­ing crimes as a de­tec­tive? That would have been re­ally in­ter­est­ing, and I might have been good at it, but I couldn’t have got there.

“So in­stead I stayed an ob­server – a writer, a jour­nal­ist, a nov­el­ist.”

THE LATE SHOW, by Michael Con­nelly (Allen & Un­win, $36.99)

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