To many, Con­nelly’s ap­peal is no mys­tery

He’s the crime writer’s crime writer, writes JAMES KIDD

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - BOOKS -

WHEN the de­fin­i­tive his­tory of 20th cen­tury crime fic­tion is fi­nally writ­ten, Bill Clin­ton will de­serve a lengthy foot­note. An avid reader of thrillers and de­tec­tive nov­els, he has boosted the ca­reer of sev­eral high-pro­file au­thors in­clud­ing Wal­ter Mosley, James Lee Burke, Sara Paret­sky and Har­lan Coben.

Per­haps no one ben­e­fited more spec­tac­u­larly from Clin­ton’s pa­tron­age than Michael Con­nelly. In 1994, he was a fledg­ling author with a cou­ple of nov­els to his name.

These were well re­ceived but sold few enough copies to keep Con­nelly in his day job, reporting crime for the Los An­ge­les Times. Then the pres­i­dent ap­par­ently walked out of a Washington book­store and into a bank of wait­ing pa­parazzi car­ry­ing a copy of Con­nelly’s third book, The Con­crete Blonde. The im­age changed Con­nelly’s life: one Harry Bosch book later and he could af­ford to write full-time.

“The Con­crete Blonde in­ci­dent helped my ca­reer quite a bit,” Con­nelly says with char­ac­ter­is­tic un­der­state­ment. “Peo­ple were in­ter­ested in read­ing what the pres­i­dent was read­ing; crit­ics wanted to ap­praise it. But if there was a photo of Clin­ton with the book, I never saw it.”

Al­most two decades and 23 nov­els later, Con­nelly has be­come the quin­tes­sen­tial crime writer’s crime writer. When I asked sev­eral au­thors to rec­om­mend the sea­son’s best thrillers, al­most ev­ery­one (in­clud­ing Lee Child and Mark Billing­ham) men­tioned The Drop – the 17th in­stal­ment of Con­nelly’s award-win­ning se­ries fea­tur­ing De­tec­tive Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.

In per­son, Con­nelly an­swers ques­tions vol­ubly and with great se­ri­ous­ness, but pours cold water on the slight­est hint of pre­ten­tious­ness.

When I ask what drives the 55-year-old to write, his an­swer mixes the ex­alted and the prag­matic. “I write to make money. I write to sup­port my fam­ily. But you can do all those things in other jobs. It comes down to artis­tic ex­pres­sion and self-ex­plo­ration. That sounds re­ally heady for some­one who just writes crime nov­els. My books are en­ter­tain­ments, but they mean some­thing to me and hope­fully to read­ers too.”

The Drop is tersely writ­ten and mul­ti­lay­ered. Be­sides hav­ing two grim cases to un­ravel, Bosch has to con­tend with his sharp-eyed teenage daugh­ter, the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions at LAPD head­quar­ters and the ever-loom­ing prospect of re­tire­ment. Con­nelly also finds the time to ex­am­ine Los An­ge­les’s ever-chang­ing so­cial and eco­nomic iden­tity, and muse on the na­ture (or nur­ture) of evil.

It only en­hances Con­nelly’s rep­u­ta­tion as a chron­i­cler of modern-day LA and a mem­ber of a vi­brant con­tem­po­rary lit­er­ary scene that in­cludes James Ell­roy, Richard Price, Dennis Le­hane, Ge­orge Pele­canos, James Lee Burke and David Si­mon.

They are, Con­nelly agrees, mem­bers of a golden gen­er­a­tion of writ­ers who em­ploy pop­u­lar forms to ex­plore grand so­cial and po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tives. “If you want to learn about con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica, you should read crime nov­els,” he says. “We’re all in some way dis­ci­ples of Ray­mond Chan­dler. There’s a duty to do more than de­liver a fancy puz­zle. If you write about LA, say some­thing about LA.”

I ask whether crime nov­els can change a city as well as de­scribe it, but Con­nelly is scep­ti­cal: “If you start think­ing about that, you are on thin ice.”

But he does note that LA’S former chief of po­lice Bill Brat­ton (the so-called “su­per­cop” con­sulted by David Cameron af­ter the UK ri­ots) read his nov­els to learn about the city be­fore start­ing the job.

Ap­par­ently, rank and file po­lice of­fi­cers also ap­pre­ci­ate Con­nelly.

They love Harry Bosch for his hon­esty, in­tegrity and im­pa­tience with bureau­cracy. Con­nelly en­joys close re­la­tion­ships with sev­eral homi­cide de­tec­tives, some­thing that was im­pos­si­ble dur­ing his days on the LA Times. “As a jour­nal­ist, I built some trust with de­tec­tives, but there was al­ways an ac­knowl­edg­ment that my job was not to sup­port them. I used to say: ‘You can trust me, I will al­ways write the truth. But if you end up on the Rod­ney King tape, I will write that’. Now they tell me about their mis­takes. They would never do that when I was a reporter.”

While Con­nelly views this ac­cess to the re­al­i­ties of law en­force­ment as a priv­i­lege, he clearly finds the re­sult­ing in­sights sober­ing. “What scares me about these con­ver­sa­tions with homi­cide de­tec­tives is (how they re­veal) the ran­dom­ness of the world. The ran­dom­ness of how peo­ple end up dead; the ran­dom­ness of how crim­i­nals are of­ten caught.”

What in­ter­ests him to­day is how po­lice­men cope with this knowl­edge. “At the core of my writ­ing, I ask how peo­ple keep them­selves safe when they wit­ness the worst crimes imag­in­able.”

Ex­actly how much more Bosch can take re­mains un­clear. Next year will be his 20th year as a crime solver. Con­nelly is cel­e­brat­ing, if that is the word, by ex­plor­ing an­other 20th an­niver­sary: of the LA ri­ots, which Con­nelly wit­nessed first­hand. “It was an amaz­ingly bad ex­pe­ri­ence to see the city come apart like that. You hope LA would have learned from its mis­takes, but I see the city as more di­vi­sive now, so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally. It makes you think it could hap­pen again.”

Con­nelly sounds more op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of Harry Bosch. The only stick­ing point he fore­sees is his own cre­ativ­ity. “I don’t know if I’m los­ing my pow­ers, but I worry about it. I know how hard it is to sus­tain a char­ac­ter over time. But no one’s go­ing to tell me when the se­ries is over. He’s at the level where some­one some­where is go­ing to pub­lish it, so I’m go­ing to be the one who has to stop writ­ing about Harry Bosch.”

Of course, if the go­ing ever does get tough, he could hand a book to Barack Obama – an­other US pres­i­dent with a taste for crime fic­tion. The ques­tion these days is, which man would ben­e­fit the most? – The Independent on Sun­day

NO PRE­TEN­SIONS: Michael Con­nelly ad­mits he writes to make money.

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