For your ears only

For­mer jour­nal­ist and best­selling au­thor Michael Con­nelly is step­ping out from un­der the cloak of fic­tion to launch his own true-crime pod­cast. Not ex­actly a stretch for a writer who still con­sid­ers him­self a re­porter at heart

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY DE­CLAN HUGHES ■ Dark Sa­cred Night is pub­lished by Orion. Michael Con­nelly’s event with De­clan Burke to­mor­row is sold out. It is part of the Murder One crimewrit­ing fes­ti­val, from Novem­ber 2nd-4th

Michael Con­nelly gets into true-crime pod­cast­ing

Not con­tent with be­ing the in­ter­na­tion­ally best­selling au­thor of 32 nov­els in 26 years and the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Bosch, the ac­claimed Ama­zon Prime TV show based on his most en­dur­ing de­tec­tive Harry Bosch, Michael Con­nelly is about to launch his own pod­cast. It’s called The

Murder Book, the first sea­son is about a case that took 30 years to come to court and it will fea­ture the voices of de­tec­tives who have “a deep-seated fierce­ness about not let­ting peo­ple get away with stuff”. Step­ping out from un­der the cloak of fic­tion is not ex­actly a stretch for Con­nelly, who still con­sid­ers him­self a re­porter at heart – vir­tu­ally ev­ery page of his fic­tion is firmly rooted in true crime – but there’s rather more at stake for him than mid-ca­reer rest­less­ness.

But first, there’s a new book to talk about (with Con­nelly, there’s al­ways a new book). When ebul­lient de­fence lawyer Mickey Haller ar­rived on the scene in The Lincoln Lawyer, read­ers sus­pected it was only a matter of time (two books) be­fore he’d come up against Harry Bosch. De­tec­tive Renée Bal­lard didn’t have to wait so long to find a se­cure foothold in Con­nelly’s fic­tional uni­verse. Fol­low­ing her de­but in 2016’s in­cen­di­ary The Late Show, Bal­lard is back in Dark Sa­cred Night. She’s still work­ing the grave­yard shift at Hol­ly­wood Divi­sion, but now she has Bosch to con­tend with. When did Con­nelly know that Bal­lard was a keeper?

“You get to the end of a book and you ask your­self, am I fin­ished with this char­ac­ter or is there more to say? With Renée it was very clear, I was still fas­ci­nated by her and what I wanted to do with her. I write about Harry Bosch and Bosch is a murder de­tec­tive and ev­ery story is a murder story, whereas Bal­lard takes on any­thing that hap­pens from mid­night to 7am, so from the writ­ing stand­point that’s a lot of free­dom, I can ex­plore al­most any­thing I want. Also, she’s the kind of char­ac­ter who doesn’t punch out and go home at seven, she car­ries cases with her, she has that re­lent­less qual­ity, and then the third as­pect was, un­like my other char­ac­ters, who are usu­ally based on an amal­gam of real de­tec­tives, fic­tional de­tec­tives, movie de­tec­tives etc, this char­ac­ter was wholly in­spired by one per­son who I have an on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship with, so am I stupid or what? Of course I’m gonna use that.”

That per­son is Mitzi Roberts, an LAPD de­tec­tive who’s been ad­vis­ing Con­nelly for years, both on his fic­tion and also as a tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant to the Bosch TV show. Con­nelly speaks to me from the set in Los An­ge­les, where they’re shoot­ing the fifth sea­son and – as if to un­der­line his cen­tral­ity to the

There was some­thing about the con­stant at­tack, the fake news and the fail­ing New York Times, all that some­how awak­ened some­thing in me where I didn’t want to shield my­self be­hind fic­tion. It’s not a po­lit­i­cal story at all, it’s a murder story, but it’s about truth

en­ter­prise – where he is in­ter­rupted more than once by crew seek­ing his coun­sel.

“Mitzi’s a homi­cide de­tec­tive right now, but ear­lier in her ca­reer she spent time on the mid­night shift and told me sto­ries about the va­ri­ety of cases that she was in­volved in, an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of these sto­ries that led me to say, this is what I want to write about. Writ­ing a lot of murder sto­ries, ob­vi­ously those are sto­ries of high stakes and so they are very in­ter­est­ing. But at the same time I guess I feel com­fort­able enough in my own skin as a writer that I think I can en­ter­tain peo­ple if it’s just a call about some­one be­ing on the roof of a strip club, I think I can weave to­gether those kind of anec­do­tal sto­ries and weave to­gether an in­ter­est­ing por­trait of a place and of a char­ac­ter, and that’s where the real de­tec­tive, Mitzi Roberts, is so im­por­tant to me, be­cause for a few years she was that per­son, and a lot of those anec­do­tal sto­ries are true sto­ries she told me.”

At­mo­spher­ictex­ture

Bal­lard and Bosch come to­gether over a miss­ing girl cold case Bosch is un­of­fi­cially work­ing. And while that’s the ma­jor plot, the novel’s rich, at­mo­spheric tex­ture de­rives from the mi­nor key pas­sages: the anec­do­tal episodes of lower stakes crime; Bal­lard’s glo­ri­ous, ex­is­ten­tial self-suf­fi­ciency such as when she fin­ishes her night shift she col­lects her dog, pitches her tent on Venice Beach and goes surf­ing, re­turn­ing to the tent to sleep. Homage to Cal­i­for­nian surf cul­ture? A fe­male Jack Reacher? “I kind of learned a les­son with The Lincoln

Lawyer. I had wanted to write about a crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer, but a lot of peo­ple do that and I’m not a lawyer, so I kind of bided my time un­til I had some­thing in­ter­est­ing, then I met a lawyer who worked out of the back seat of his car and I sud­denly had it, I had that book. And Mitzi would tell me about how you see the world dif­fer­ently when you work from 12 to seven, and your day ends when ev­ery­one else’s is be­gin­ning. I wish I could say I was the cre­ative ge­nius be­hind ev­ery­thing but Mitzi did what Renée did, she would fin­ish work and go surf­ing, she had a dog who would watch over her stuff, some­times she would sleep on the beach, she wasn’t quite as home­less as Renée.” Con­nelly starts to laugh. “Here am I re­veal­ing I didn’t make any of this stuff up … which goes to the part you al­ready said, I’m al­ways a re­porter at heart, my skill is I can see some­thing or hear some­thing or learn some­thing and know how I can use it in a novel.”

Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally mod­est and self-ef­fac­ing as ever (Con­nelly is the nicest con­nois­seur of vi­o­lent crime you could hope to meet), read­ers will not be fooled. Gift­ing Bal­lard a fa­ther who died in the Hawai­ian surf grounds her in a pro­foundly fic­tional re­al­ity, as any­one who has read the in­ex­press­ibly mov­ing last page of The

Late Show can at­test. Ad­di­tion­ally, Bal­lard’s de­mo­tion oc­curs be­cause her sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim against her su­pe­rior is ig­nored and speaks di­rectly to our cur­rent cul­tural mo­ment. Con­nelly de­murs, how­ever, re­mind­ing me that he wrote the first book be­fore #MeToo; I re­mind him of crime fic­tion’s peren­nial abil­ity to get to the scene early.

“Yeah, that’s one of the things that makes us proud, I’m sure you feel the same way, that we’re in this genre that doesn’t wait five years to com­ment about things, we’re very ac­tive in re­flect­ing the world as things are hap­pen­ing, and es­pe­cially in the USA there’s been this huge reck­on­ing in the past year, and I think you’re see­ing that re­flected in crime nov­els first.

“And I wish I could say like, ‘oh yeah, I’m Mr #MeToo, I was ahead of the wave’. What I was do­ing was writ­ing about a wo­man who has an added ob­sta­cle [of] be­ing a fe­male in a very male-based bu­reau­cracy. She has had to over­come ob­sta­cles that males don’t, and some­times those ob­sta­cles are right in her own divi­sion, her own bu­reau, ex­pe­ri­ences that prob­a­bly 80 to 90 per cent of women who would read the book have had. Most of us don’t go out and solve mur­ders, but we might have to deal with a boss whose hands are quick to touch you.”

Amur­der­story

Bal­lard will be back with Bosch in the next book and, since all good things come in threes, Mickey Haller will be added to the mix. Mean­while, there are pod­casts. In his un­der­stated way but with dis­cernible heat, Con­nelly re­veals The Murder Book is not just a dis­trac­tion or an­other mar­ket­ing tool: “There was some­thing about the con­stant at­tack, the fake news and the fail­ing New York Times, all that some­how awak­ened some­thing in me where I didn’t want to shield my­self be­hind fic­tion. It’s not a po­lit­i­cal story at all, it’s a murder story, but it’s about truth, it came out of some­thing in me say­ing, let’s tell a true story, and to me it’s a true story about he­roes, and some of the he­roes are the type that are be­ing slighted now by our politi­cians, by our politi­cian in chief at the mo­ment.

“I want these peo­ple, like Mitzi, to have a voice, and for peo­ple to re­alise in this time when jour­nal­ism is un­der fire, a lot of law en­force­ment is un­der fire, that there’s a pod­cast telling the truth about how hard peo­ple work and what it means to them to do this work and to do it the right way.”

‘‘

We’re in this genre that doesn’t wait five years to com­ment about things, we’re very ac­tive in re­flect­ing the world as things are hap­pen­ing, and es­pe­cially in the USA there’s been this huge reck­on­ing in the past year

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MARK DELONG; AMA­ZON

Far left: au­thor Michael Con­nelly. Left: Ti­tus Wel­liver from the Ama­zon Prime se­ries based on Con­nelly’sBosch nov­els. Above: LAPD de­tec­tive and ad­vi­sor Mitzi Roberts.

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