(Michael Connelly, interview from 2009-2010, posted in April 2011)
## When I met you in Montreal, during the promo tour for The Narrows, I remember you mentioning that, per capita, Quebec was the number one place on the planet for sales of your books. Do you know if this is still the case and do you follow closely your sales around the globe?
M.C.-- I do not know if that still holds. It was a piece of data given to me by someone from the publishing house. The reality is that I don’t keep a close watch on such statistics. What I try to do is keep my head down and write good stories. The rest takes care of itself.
## Genre fiction sales in general have been on the rise for at least the past 15 years. In Horror, it became a movie phenomenon similar to what we experienced in the '70s and '80s (the'90s were strangely calmer in that area) but in Crime fiction it grew slowly and steadily into a boom in the book world. How do you explain this return to popularity for crime books: is it the emergence of more talented writers, a more open-minded way of doing business from publishing houses or something else entirely? Also, which books (authors) do you think triggered the explosion?
M.C.-- I think there are many reasons for the popularity of the crime genre. Yes, it is an area of storytelling that has increasingly drawn talented writers. I also think it is a sociological phenomenon. The world has become more confusing. It has also become more dangerous. These books tend to follow a standard in which justice prevails. This is reassuring. I think we all look at the world and see that bad people often get away. That doesn’t happen too often in fiction and it is reassuring. As far as naming writers, there are too many to name. Many, many writers have come along and pushed the envelope in large and small ways. To single one writer out I would have to say Thomas Harris. I think Red Dragon is probably the most influential crime novel of the last 30 years.
## Why do you find it reassuring when justice prevails? Is it because you see literature (or at least crime fiction) as entertainment and it shouldn't be negative nor add to our world's instability and fragility?
M.C.-- I just think it’s because it’s a confusing world out there and any story that puts the parts of the puzzle together can be reassuring. It gives comfort.
## You’ve just mentioned Red Dragon and I agree with you; it was one of the first crime novels I read and I would compare to it everything I’d read for many years after that. The same thing happened after I read Angels Flight. It was my first encounter with Harry Bosch; although I remember the storyline and most of the characters, I always think of it as a book about Los Angeles (more than the other Bosch stories). Was it your intention to have L.A. as a character more than just the stage for the story? Was it because it was soon after the riots? (I understand that the book was also about racial tensions and finding some kind of good, of peace and grace in all that chaos, and if The Garden of Earthly Delights is what represents Bosch the painter, then Angels Flight would be what represents Bosch the detective and L.A, because both the painting and the book include the good as well as the bad by which their world is defined).
M.C.-- I think you are certainly on the right track there. It was a Bosch story that probably more than the others was a vehicle for saying something about the city. It was heavily influenced by my own experiences as a reporter during the riots. It seemed so unexpected to me. It showed how little many in the city knew of how deep our problems ran. I spent a couple nights working during the riots, the first at the spot where Rodney King, the motorist, had been beaten by police. The next night I was on Hollywood Boulevard which was even more surreal because there seemed to be no reason to what I was seeing.
HARRY, HIERONYMOUS, and HOPE
## I’ve heard that you wrote two novels before The Black Echo. Is this true? And if so, what happened to them? Did they involve Bosch, did they become later novels, etc?
M.C.-- It is probably more accurate to say I attempted two novels before Black Echo. It is hard for me to say they were completed. I would say they were first drafts of two different novels and I instinctively knew they were not good enough to leave my writing room, that they were learning experiences. They did not have Bosch in them and they were not even set in Los Angeles. I wrote them while I lived in Florida before moving to L.A. Something about the move across the country to L.A. and the lessons learned from those first two efforts led me to Harry Bosch and The Black Echo. I got pretty lucky.
## How did you decide to name him Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, did you have other names in mind?
M.C.-- I knew that the book would live or die with this character so I wanted to take care in naming him. Initially I called him Pierce. No first name, just Pierce, because I was following that adage that a detective must be able to pierce all veils and levels of society. He must go where the case takes him. And then in my second draft of the book I switched to the name Hieronymus Bosch because I was reminded of the painter whose work I had studied during a humanities class at the University of Florida. So much of what you are dealing with in a book is metaphor. So I was constantly on the lookout for metaphor. The work of the painter can be described as chaos or a world gone wrong. The wages of sin. These descriptions could also be ascribed to a crime scene, especially a murder scene. You can stretch the metaphor further and say the underside of Los Angeles, where Harry Bosch would dwell, is akin to the painter’s most famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights. I knew when I decided to name the detective Hieronymus Bosch that people would either get the metaphor or they would be intrigued. Either way, it was a stroke of character.
## Does The Garden of Earthly Delights best represent Harry's life too, or would it be a different one than for L.A.?
M.C.-- I think The Garden of Earthly Delights is the big connection. It can be argued – metaphorically, at least – that it shares many aspects with Harry Bosch’s view of Los Angeles. L.A. is a place of great beauty and diversity – ocean, mountains, deserts and valleys – but it is damaged by man and nature. Smog, over-development, crime, earthquakes, wildfires. It seems to have it all but it can’t seem to keep it all. In many ways it has taken the serpent’s apple. It’s a place of angels and demons and users and predators. One of those angels is Harry Bosch.
## When did you first see a Bosch painting?
M.C.-- I saw my first Bosch painting in person in Venice, Italy, in the early ‘90s. I went to the El Prado in Madrid about seven or eight years ago and spent an hour in the Bosch room, seeing The Garden of Earthly Delights for the first time. It’s fantastic.
## It was said of Bosch, the painter, that "(...) he was a stranger in his own time and place (...)". To what extent could we say the same of Bosch, the detective?
M.C.-- In many ways Harry is out of his time. Most people in Los Angeles come from somewhere else. But Harry is an original and deeply connected to both his own and the city’s past. It makes him feel a little out of place. He is an outsider with an insider’s job.
## The paintings represent absurdity, chaos, gruesome violence, insanity, along with omnipresent religious themes. It's as if Bosch had been living in a medieval (or mid-evil) L.A. Is it that bad now or is the city stuck with a bad reputation?
M.C.-- Where there is smoke there is usually fire. Los Angeles is in many ways a paradise destroyed – hence the connection to Bosch and his paintings. But there are many – including me and Harry – who carry hope that the place can overcome its problems. It can be the city of the future as long as there are guardians of that dream like Harry who don’t give up on it.
## Usually, people say that you've been "discovered" with the release of "The Poet". How did you react when you finally received more attention from the readers and reviewers? What changed after that, did you feel more pressure while writing the next books?
M.C.-- I have a lot of confidence in what I write and so there is always satisfaction when a book is discovered and dissatisfaction when a book is not. But I am also pretty good at building a wall between my writing room and the rest of the world. What happens outside doesn’t affect what happens in the writing room. I feel no pressure from success. I write what I want to write.
ON WRITING, DRIVING & THE DRIVE TO WRITE
## What fuels your writing?
M.C.-- I think in the early years I operated on negative motivation – I had an “I’ll show them” chip on my shoulder. I think now I am motivated by the incredible opportunity I have. I am allowed to write books! And no one tells me what to write! I really have a lot of artistic freedom and I try to revel in it.
## Do you outline your stories? If you do, did you ever have any surprises where it didn't work out as you expected and had to re-think major plot elements?
M.C.-- I don’t outline my books. I just wing it and hope for the best. In a way, that means everything is a surprise.
## Did it ever happen that you had to re-write a major part because of comments from a detective or any other people who read early drafts?
M.C.-- That happens all the time. I like to write the story, then give it to experts in the fields the story takes me across. When I get their comments I always have a lot of rewriting to do in order to make it accurate. I just finished rewriting my next book (The Brass Verdict). It’s a legal thriller so I had three lawyers read a draft. With their comments I did a lot of rewriting. It’s the routine I follow with every book.
## You usually focus on the main character and what he/she will go through and then build the plot to fit into that. I find that very interesting because I always thought it would be the opposite: creating a plot and then finding out what your main character(s) will go through. But of course, it's also very logical that you'd do it this way because if the characters are not interesting, as good a plot you have, the readers wouldn't be drawn into the story. Did you experiment with both ways or did you go with that right from the start? Or was it an unconscious process?
M.C.-- I think a lot of it is unconscious. It is actually hard to separate character and plot but we always do when we analyze novels. I think character is more important than plot but they are so intertwined that it probably doesn’t matter. Very simply you must have both to make a book really work. I think of it as the plot being a car and the character being that car’s driver. You need them both if you are going to get anywhere, but you really need a good driver who will turn that car on streets you never expected. You want him to hit the gas on the tight curves and make you hang on for dear life. If you’ve got a good driver that car will win the race.
## What is the most difficult part of writing a book: finding the main storyline, writing the first sentence, numerous re-writes, etc?
M.C.-- Starting is always the hardest part for me. It’s like you are at the bottom of a mountain looking up and knowing you’ve got to climb that thing. That is tough. Rewriting is the best part for me. This is because I have something to rewrite – I have climbed the mountain already – and I am making it better. I really think my books don’t come together until I start rewriting.
## When you're not working, how easy is it for you to see the world without your writer's eye? Or does every news story, every person you meet, every place you go to, become potential material to be included in a story?
M.C.-- I only have one eye when it comes to looking at the world, and it is the writer’s eye. For good or bad, I can’t stop being a writer and therefore everything I see, read, or experience is potentially going to inspire me to write something.
## Do you set yourself a deadline for your research to make sure you have enough time to write the book, or do you keep researching while you write?
M.C.-- I like to shoot first and ask questions later. I get inspired by an idea and I start to write. I research while I write, shooting off emails to cops and detectives, lawyers, even scientists sometimes. As I get responses I incorporate. I have rarely had a period when I was not writing and only researching.
## Do you write at specific times, or whenever you decide? Are you the type of writer who writes until he drops?
M.C.-- It depends on where I am in the process. Starting a book is most difficult for me so I have to set prescribed hours and force myself to work. Then, when I get momentum and it is going well, I write till I drop or other duties call me away from the computer.
## You've written some stories in the 1st person narrative, others in the 3rd person, sometimes you switch in the same book as you did in The Poet. What comes easier for you? Do you feel a different flow to the stories and do you feel more involved in a 1st person narrative or maybe a little more detached with a 3rd person narrative?
M.C.-- It really depends on the character. Some characters sort of demand it. They have a personality that demands they tell the story or the story being told is so confessional that it only works in first person. I have written Harry Bosch stories both ways and feel the third person suits him best because he can remain enigmatic. With first person there is no holding back. There are no secrets.
CRIMES, COPS & CHAOS
## You've seen a lot as a journalist covering crime, there must have been a period of adaptation, kind of crossing to a whole other dimension of the world, seeing the too true reality of the darkness of humankind. How did it change you inside, mentally? And what was your welcome to the crime world moment?
M.C.-- I’ve always been an observer and have a professional detachment that an outside observer has. So I had no difficulty with what I did as a reporter. Of course, I didn’t see the dark side the way cops and detectives do. I was at least one step removed and so I only caught glimpses. This kept me safe. The most important moment I had as a journalist was when a perfect stranger pulled me away from a crowd of angry people during the L.A. riots in 1992. He got me safely to my car and I will never forget it.
## Some cops are known to develop a very negative perception of society, and of becoming very cynical. Some even become part of that darkness. Have you met some of these cops and how did you keep from becoming like that, knowing that it'll never stop; there'll always be a guy murdering his wife because she wants a divorce, kids being kidnapped and never found (or found dead), pedophilia, incest, violence, chaos, etc.
M.C.-- The cops see things on a daily basis that would turn everybody’s life upside down. I try to capture it in my books with the goal of showing a cop who doesn’t get pulled down into it. Harry Bosch goes into darkness every day of his life. Some of that darkness has gotten into him and his struggle not to succumb to it underlines the nobility of the job. That’s what I write about. I have known real cops who have fallen, become addicted, killed themselves, but to me the ones that don’t fall and beat the darkness are much more interesting to write about.
## From your first day on the crime beat to The Black Echo and then to today, how did the work of detectives in particular and cops in general change? What is better and what is worse?
M.C.-- The two biggest changes are technology and media. Technology has become a new tool which helps them solve cases more quickly and efficiently. However, it has undercut the need for experience and instinct. These are two things that cannot be replaced. The media attention to crime has also put police under a giant microscope. They work in an environment – especially in a place like L.A. – where they know that any little misstep will be magnified and have consequences. It’s not the best environment for police work.
## Living so far from L.A. now, how do you keep it fresh in your mind?
M.C.-- I spend a lot of time in L.A. I alternate between renting apartments and staying in hotels all over the city. It gives me angles I didn’t have even when I lived there. It keeps it fresh. I love being in L.A. and assume that my final destination is there.
## To continue on L.A., your promotional DVD "Blue Neon Night" was a nice bonus with The Narrows. What are your favorite places in L.A. and are there places in the city you haven't explored yet but want to?
M.C.-- There are many places I have yet to explore and that is the main reason I still write about L.A. It is a place that can never be known fully. As far as the places I like, I am like Harry Bosch. I like the grace notes of the city, places that link the present to the past. I think the Bradbury Building is my favorite in the city. It is over 100 years old. I also love Angels Flight and I like the Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and Third, a place that seems to be a perfect blend of old and new.
Bradbury Building Circa 1887
## Let's switch to Florida, where you live. You worked there before leaving for L.A. and then eventually went back. Stephen King has released his first book set in Florida (Duma Key) mentioning that he had lived there long enough now to feel comfortable writing about it (or at least setting a story there). You've written mostly about L.A., and about Las Vegas too, what about Florida, or Philadelphia?
M.C.-- For me it’s not necessarily feeling comfortable. It’s about feeling the inspiration. I write about LA now and I think it remains the most inspiring place I know. There is much to explore in terms of character linking to the city. I don’t get that motivation from where I live now. That could change but I don’t think it will. L.A. also serves as a perfect springboard to other places I find of interest. This would include Mexico and Las Vegas and very recently even Hong Kong.
## Continuing with Stephen King, he used his popularity and influence to help out a lot of writers get noticed. He has also crossed the boundaries of horror into fantasy, sci-fi, crime writing and mainstream (or general) fiction. In the crime writing genre, I'm tempted to compare your popularity (to a certain degree) to his own; we also see your name under blurbs for other writers, you are guest editor in anthologies, you've also been the first (and only, so far) two-year president of Mystery Writers of America and I'm sure you are involved in other ventures we don't hear about. How do you see your involvement in general, and how would you summarize your time as president of MWA?
M.C.-- I have had a lot of good fortune in the publishing world. I’d be a fool to think it all comes from talent. Some of it is just plain luck. So being aware of this I look for ways of giving back here and there. So I volunteer. Being president of MWA is one of the easiest jobs out there because everybody else does the work. You are mostly a figurehead and you sign the letters other people write.
STRONG, SERIAL & SHORT STORIES
## In The Blue Religion, you have a story titled Father's Day. It's a difficult, emotionally charged read --especially for parents. There was a similar case a few years ago in Montreal, in the middle of summer, where a father had left his daughter in the car while he went to work; he forgot to drop her off at the daycare center. He only remembered at lunchtime and it was too late. I was surprised to read about a 3 year-old dead boy as the center of a Connelly story, because I remember you saying that your perspective changed after your daughter was born. You mentioned fatherhood as a reason to write The Narrows because your killer from The Poet had gotten away and you didn't want that anymore. So, how difficult was it for the father in you to let the writer do his thing and write that story?
M.C.-- It was inspired by a true story and it was a story like the one you mention in Montreal, a gut-wrenching mistake by a parent. I sort of flipped it around and started thinking about a situation where it was one of those awful mistakes, or was it. In a way it was a writing experiment. But like anybody I change and grow. What I said about The Narrows was strictly about The Narrows. I am entitled as a human who changes and evolves to change and evolve what I write about. That was then and this is now. I am writing a story now where Harry’s own child falls into danger. She is my own daughter’s own age and so maybe I am exploring my own worse fears in my writing.
## At the end, we see a side of Bosch that we don't often see when he lets his emotions out and bumps fists with Iggy. Did you feel like that finishing the story? What I liked about the story was the straightforward beginning to finish of the interrogation that Bosch does. It wasn't about the complexity of the story but about the pace; were you reading that one aloud while writing it?
M.C.-- I never read out loud, but there is a definite freedom when you write short stories. I find that there are no expectations. When you spend a year writing a novel and the whole machinery of marketing and promotion is ready to crank up, you feel some pressure to perform. You want the best book possible to come out of your laptop. But with a short story, in which you are most often furnishing the story as a favor to the editor, there are no expectations. You can experiment, do different things and it often leads to something new.
## Will you at some point publish a collection of your short stories? Or have them all available on your website?
M.C.-- I hope so. But I need to write a lot more before I get to that point.
## The Overlook was first published as a serial in the NY Times. Did the newspaper approach you or was it something that you had been thinking of trying?
M.C.-- I had the story idea in my back pocket and thought it lent itself to a shorter narrative because I envisioned the whole thing taking place in 12 hours. So my thinking was that I would write it short and then use it as the centerpiece of a collection that would include the short stories I have written over the years. Then, coincidentally, the New York Times comes calling and it was a perfect fit for the length they were talking about. It just worked out.
## As a reader, I can't do just a chapter per week, it breaks the rhythm of the story. Like listening to Kind of Blue only one piece per week when it's meant to be listened from start to finish, in the same hour. So I printed each chapter and only after I had the whole thing did I read it, in one sitting.
M.C.-- I think that is a good way to put it – like listening to Kind of Blue one song a week. Not the way to do it.
## How difficult and different was it from your usual routine? Was the story edited and divided to fit the space allotted in the newspaper? And is this different format the reason why the story is so much shorter than your usual books?
M.C.-- The story was completely written and then sculpted to fit the weekly slots. I think this process knocked off the rhythm of the overall story. Obviously, because it was being published week to week, there was a need to end each chapter with a stronger hook than usual. Needless to say, I was happy to get it back and restore it to what I originally envisioned. I also added about 20,000 words to it before it was published as a book. It is certainly shorter than my previous books but still as long as many other books usually published by other writers. I will make up for it with my next book, The Brass Verdict, which weighs in at 500-plus pages, the longest book I have ever written.
## I felt that the bonus chapter was sort of a "to be continued" ending that would develop in the next book.
M.C.-- No, it’s just a further explanation of what happened to Harry Bosch in The Overlook. It also plants a seed for something that may or may not happen in a future book.
## Although some critics have complained that you didn't do as much character development as usual, focusing instead on the plot and the investigation, I thought that you introduced a lot of interesting elements and new characters. Will we see more of Brenner, Walling and Ferras?
M.C.-- The simple answer is I don’t know. I like creating new characters and I like coming back to characters that are tried and true. The book I just finished writing is about Mickey Haller from The Lincoln Lawyer. But Harry Bosch plays a big part in it. None of these other characters you have mentioned are in it. They could all come back in the next one.
## Aside from Harry Bosch, which characters are you most proud of having created?
M.C.--I am proud of all my characters but some have more staying power with me than others. I have written about Harry Bosch in 14 books now and I still feel there is a lot I could still do with him and hope to. I like Mickey Haller because he offers the flipside of Harry Bosch.
## I guess it’s also a change of pace and a way of keeping Bosch fresh by writing about somebody else once in a while. But when you put both of them in the same book, does it feel like two characters sparring in your head to get the best part?
M.C.-- I think that very well could be the case if I did not choose ahead of time. In The Brass Verdict I decided before writing the first page that while both of these characters would play big and important parts in the story, that it would clearly be Mickey Haller’s story. It is told in his voice and it’s his story to tell. Next time it will be Harry’s.
THE TRUE CRIME BEAT
## In Crime Beat, I was hoping to find your Pulitzer nominated story, but it's not there. Is it because it was a collaboration (not owning 100% of the rights) or because it didn't fit with the cop stories? Where is it possible to find that story?
M.C.-- Yes, exactly. It was a collaboration and the book was about my stories and how they relate to the novels I have written. The plane crash story used to be available by link on my website. Check there.
(## It wasn’t anymore but I found it on the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel archives; I downloaded it for a small fee)
## Reading Crime Beat felt like reading a short-story collection. It is far from the static and unemotional usual journalistic view of events. I remember my first editor telling me "I don't want a f&*%?ing story, I want the facts. What, who, where, when, forget the why and the weather! If you're not happy, go be a starving writer or poet!" I guess your editors were more understanding! When did you realize you had found your voice, your style of writing?
M.C.-- Well that collection is just a very small piece of my journalistic history. For the most part I wrote the kind of stories your editor demanded. It was only now and then that you could bring a feature writer’s skill to a crime story. That was what that book was all about. I think my voice as a novelist was found with the first book I got published. It was the third book I had actually written and so there was a six-year process that culminated in that first publication. By then I think I had the voice I still have.
## There is a crime beat reporter in Montreal who is a celebrity because he's been doing it for almost 50 years (and still does it). He has his own TV program and there is also a crime fiction TV-series based on his career; hostage takers, criminals and killers have often requested to negotiate with him or will even call him directly before calling a lawyer; people with information on a crime will leave messages on his answering machine instead of calling the police. Anything unusual like that ever happened to you?
M.C.-- Not really. I didn’t last that long! But usually in every city there is a longtime cop beat reporter who has a reputation for fairness and is often sought out by criminal suspects who want to turn themselves in. Nobody ever turned themselves into me but a lot of suspects called me from jail to tell me they were innocent. That was part of the routine.
## Have you considered writing a true crime book about one particular case, or maybe a story of the LAPD?
M.C.-- For a long time I said I would never return to writing true crime. But I now feel that if the right story came up and I had complete access then I might be interested in writing about it. It’s a hard choice, though, because I already feel that I have a great thing going as a novelist.
## Have you been approached to teach either a journalism course or a creative writing course? Would you be interested to do it? Or maybe write a reference book on writing?
M.C.-- I have been approached but the timing has not been right. I usually am a guest lecturer a couple times a year at the journalism school at the University of Florida, the school I attended. I don’t know if it is considered teaching but I like doing it. It’s very rewarding.
## You've now been writing fiction for longer than you've covered the crime beat. If you couldn't be a published writer anymore, would you go back to being a journalist? Are there aspects of it that you miss or is being a writer the best job?
M.C.-- I feel that I have had two great jobs. If I never got a book published I am sure I would still be working at a newspaper somewhere. It’s hard to say where because the business is in near collapse and veteran journalists have become expendable. It’s sad to see. A lot of once-great newspapers are limping along now.
LET’S TALK ABOUT MUSIC…AND ALL THAT JAZZ
## Jazz is almost a character in some of your books, sometimes closer to Harry than any human beings can be. His life is marked by destruction, deception and darkness; when there's no apparent end to chaos, no truth and not even a glimmer of hope, Harry can still be soothed and partially mended by jazz. What is the one song or instrumental piece that is Harry Bosch's main theme?
M.C.-- The music is very important in the books because they offer the reader a connection to Harry. He listens to music created by artists who had very difficult times making their music. This is by design. Harry connects to Art Pepper for example, not just because the music is so good, but because he shares a kinship in the struggle. To make that beautiful sound, Pepper overcame obstacles of addiction, imprisonment and crime. Harry had to overcome a lot to make his music and so he connects. I think that undoubtedly Harry’s theme song is Lullaby as performed by Frank Morgan. I often play that one song before beginning a day of writing about Harry.
## Haruki Murakami wrote an essay in the NY Times in 2007 titled "Jazz Messenger" where he talked about his passion for jazz, and of the similarities between writing fiction and playing music. He wrote: "Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have a good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won't keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music -- and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody -- which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. (...) Next is harmony -- the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work -- upon ending your "performance" and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful".
Was writing Blood Work (with mentions of Howlin' Wolf, Bob Dylan, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix) or The Lincoln Lawyer (with mostly Tupac but also Ludacris and Dr Dre) a different experience than writing Lost Light, the book in which you probably have the most references to jazz (from Art Pepper a few times to Frank Morgan, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker and a few others) or A Darkness More Than Night in which you have a mix of genres (Miles Davis, Art Pepper, Bob Seger, Van Morrison, Springsteen, etc.) ? Do you have music playing all the time while you write, and specific songs depending on what scene you're writing?
M.C.-- I never read that essay but it sounds like it is on the money. I understand the correlation of rhythm and I believe there is a kinship between improvising while playing music and writing prose. It is hard to describe but I instinctively know it’s true. Music is very important to me during the writing process. It can put me into a certain character groove. With Harry Bosch it is jazz; with Mickey Haller it was hip hop. I wrote a book called Void Moon and during the year I wrote it I only listened to one record over and over because I felt the songs recorded by Lucinda Williams on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road perfectly spoke to the character of Cassie Black.
## Murakami mentions also that he fell in love with jazz when he saw his first concert, in Kobe, in 1964. Art Blakey with The Jazz Messengers: Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller. What was your falling-in-love-with-jazz moment?
M.C.-- I read a story in a magazine about Frank Morgan. It described how he had squandered his status of heir apparent to Charlie Parker by becoming addicted to heroin and losing his talent in a life of crime and imprisonment. After more than 25 years in and out of prison he cleaned up, got dedicated and recorded the record Mood Indigo. The magazine said it was a classic. Having never heard Morgan I went out and got it and loved it. I saw Frank play a few times in L.A. and he became my favorite musician, my link to the love of jazz. One of the best days of my life was when I shared a stage with Frank at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He played and talked about his life. I spoke of writing and the link to music. He played Lullaby while I spoke of its importance to me and to Harry Bosch. He passed away a few months later.
## He was one of the best musicians the world of Jazz has known. What comes to mind first about him that you'll always remember? What, in your mind, made him one of the best in what he did?
M.C.-- I will tell you a story about him that stays with me. On that day in Boston at the school we spoke to a lot of young musicians and Frank had a very simple but important message. Stay clean and never stop practicing. After the day at the school ended we went back to our hotel. We had a few hours off before we planned to go to dinner together. I was tired from being on stage and being “on.” I went to my room to take a nap before dinner. Pretty soon I heard Frank’s saxophone from somewhere in the hotel. He was practicing. At his age and at his level of accomplishment, he was still practicing. Too bad all those young students weren’t there to hear that.
## Murakami ends his essay by mentioning an answer that Thelonious Monk gave to the question “How did you manage to get a certain special sound out of the piano?" He said: "It can't be any new note, (...) all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!" Murakami adds: "It's true. There aren't any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words." What do you think of that approach, and what is your own approach to your work as a writer?
M.C.-- It’s true. Early in my career I kept trying to come up with a plot that was totally unique. I came to realize that there are no unique plots, there are only unique ways of telling the same story. Look at Harry Bosch. If you boil him down to basics he is an archetype we have seen and read a million times before. But I try to bring a unique genetic design to him. I make him my own and in doing that I make him different. I think – or at least hope – that he comes out unique.
## As many readers, I hope you'll have another music CD from the Bosch series. Any plans?
M.C.-- Nothing planned. On one hand I don’t want to repeat myself. On the other, I think there is a lot of good music mentioned in the books and not contained on that first one. So you never know.
COURTROOMS, CREATIONS & CASSIE
## I really enjoyed The Brass Verdict and I think it proves without a doubt (if anybody had doubts) that you could be as successful writing legal thrillers as you are writing crime novels. Do you enjoy it as much and is it a different approach?
M.C.-- I do enjoy writing these sort of stories because to me it is just another facet of the crime novel. My approach is different because the Mickey Haller books require more research. I still think they are character stories first but you have to know the law and get it right. Unlike the kings of the hill like John Grisham and Scott Turow, I have never practiced law and been in a courtroom with a client’s future held in your hands. That experience counts for a lot and so I hope that with a lot of research, in particular spending time with defense attorneys, I can write stories that ring as true as theirs.
## You obviously spent a lot of time in courtrooms and done your homework about all legal matters: what is the most interesting aspect, for you as a writer, about courtrooms and trials?
M.C.-- I’m always taken aback by how routine it all is. Blood in, blood out. I think because the lawyers and judges and many of the defendants have all been through this so many times there is a sameness to it. It is routine and the idea that people’s lives are altered each hour in the courthouse seems to be lost.
##Do you see Bosch differently when you're writing from Haller's perspective?
M.C.-- Sure. It is a very different and fresh take on Bosch. This is primarily because the story does not take the reader – or in this case, the writer – inside Harry Bosch’s head. So without that interior dimension the portrayal of Bosch is quite different.
## One of the biggest suspense in this story, for long-time readers of your books, is "when will Mickey learn that Bosch is his half-brother?" Did you play with the idea of waiting a little bit more or did you definitely want this book to be the one where Haller would learn about it?
M.C.-- I think that was the starting point of the book. The reason for it. So I knew it was going to happen. I just had to decide when. I thought it would be unlikely that Harry would reveal it because he has kept the secret more than 30 years. So it had to be about Mickey coming to realize there was a connection. That dictated that it not be something that happens suddenly but through the course of the book.
## I liked the new element of the iPod that Harry carries along with him. It was a little disconcerting at first, Bosch with a very modern item, very anachronistic –for him-- but then you get used to it and realize that it's very logical that he would jump at the opportunity to carry jazz everywhere he goes. Will it help him relax or concentrate more now that he doesn't have to wait to be home (or in his car) to put a CD on? Will he carry a Blackberry next or is he stopping there with technology?
M.C.-- Well, he does have a cell phone. I just have never said what brand. Harry has always been suspicious of technology until he is convinced of its value. He probably didn’t take a lot of convincing with the iPod. Carrying music with him is probably seen as a good thing, even through his anachronistic eyes. The other aspect that probably attracts him is how he can use the music and the earphones to shut the rest of the world out.
## Do you think you'll be able to just leave Harry at the end of his career to retire, or do you sense a need for a bad ending?
M.C.-- The series is built around a metaphor of a tunnel. Lots of references to light and darkness. It’s Harry in the tunnel and he is heading toward the light at the end. If that light is a bad end then I think I will have to consider that I am a cruel man.
## What are Harry's own hidden truths and does he have any unidentified issues (or past events) that he'll need to deal with?
M.C.-- If he has hidden truths then I won’t be revealing them here. Same with his unidentified issues. What I want known about Harry at the moment is contained in what has been written and published. I am not going to give things away before I have written them. If I did that I probably wouldn’t end up writing them.
## What is “Suitcase City”? Was it a potential title for The Brass Verdict or a book taking place in Tampa? (I think it would make a great title for a short story collection).
M.C.-- It was the working title to The Brass Verdict but was ultimately determined to be a bit obscure. I think it could end up as a short story collection because it is a reference to the transient nature of Los Angeles. Everybody has a suitcase packed and is ready to go, literally or figuratively.
##There's a subtle wink to Cassie Black in the book (The Brass Verdict) so she's obviously still on your mind; is she coming back soon?
M.C.-- She is still on my mind but she isn’t coming back all that soon. At least as far as I know. I like to link up all my books and with that little nod in The Brass Verdict I have her firmly part of this alternate world. She is now a former client of Mickey’s and in The Narrows she met Harry. I have been pondering how to bring her back for a long time but it’s hard to do. I need her to come back for something more than a caper novel and so far I don’t have the idea.
BIG & SMALL SCREENS
## Because you've sold the movie rights to Harry Bosch, I guess chances of seeing him in a TV series instead of on the big screen are pretty much inexistent-- or are TV and cinema in different worlds in regards to rights? Any other possible TV projects?
M.C.-- The rights issue is very complicated but it does not seem that there is any interest in Harry Bosch for the movies or TV so I don’t think too much about it. The books are very internal. They are about how Harry thinks and views the world. This is very hard to get into a script, whether for the movies or TV.
(This was then. Recently, rights reverted back to Michael Connelly—for an estimated $3 million price tag for—and he is negotiating with Yellow Bird Films, the Swedish producers who adapted the Stieg Larsson books into movies.)
## How did you find the experience with UPN and "Level 9" (a sci-fi crime series)?
M.C.-- I think it was enough TV for me for a while. It pretty much served to underline for me how good I have it as a novelist. No meetings, no rewrites for people who don’t understand character and story, no pleasing studios. After a year of that, going back to writing books was a dream.
## What do you think about the crime series that air on TV these days? Anything impresses you, or depresses you?
MC-- I watch very little of it because I write crime stories all day long. The only two crime shows I have watched and liked in recent years are The Wire and Dexter. One was a groundbreaking and wonderful show and the other was just wildly entertaining.
SPORTS & A GOOD SPORT (SPECIAL GUEST)
## You live in Florida and in Los Angeles, so I have to ask: Dodgers, Marlins or Devil Rays?
M.C.-- I am a big fan of the sport and probably the Dodgers will always be my favorite. But I was born in Philadelphia and live in Tampa. I went to the first game of the (2008) World Series and was unsure who to cheer for.
(The Phillies won the World Series that year and went back in 2009 but lost against the Yankees)
## Who's your all-time favorite player amongst those you saw playing?
M.C.-- Kirk Gibson for the year he was a Dodger.
## What's your position on the steroids scandal? Should a player be banned from the Hall of Fame? If Pete Rose was for betting on games...
M.C.-- As with everything in life, everybody should be on a level playing field. If people are cheating they should be punished. If it is a case where people were using before it was a banned substance then you move into a gray area and I have a hard time seeing people persecuted or prosecuted for something that was not a crime at the time they committed it.
## Any other sports you follow?
M.C.--All of them except NASCAR. I’ve been to two college basketball championships, one college football championships, many Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers games and I went to most of the home games the year the Miami Dolphins went undefeated.
## If you'd stop writing books, would you go back to journalism or just enjoy an early retirement? And what do you do to unwind from writing and touring? What's your favorite day off like?
M.C.-- I don’t know. I don’t think I could stop writing in one form or another. It’s what I do and I am lucky to be allowed to do it. I have other pursuits outside of writing. I like to spend time at home with my family. I love to watch sports and I like to fish and golf. A good day off for me is when the water is flat and I can get out on my boat and drop a line in the water. Of course, a lot of writing takes place in your head when you’re waiting for the fish to bite.
##You wore your journalist clothes a couple of times to do interviews with Harry Bosch. I thought they were funny but I also had that image of Bosch sitting in front of you and I was wondering if he said anything that surprised you, that you didn't know about him until you asked a question. So I kind of borrowed your idea and I ask every writer I interview to let me ask questions to their detective/PI/investigator/thug etc. So if you could be a good sport and step outside for a moment, I'd like to talk to Harry now.
##Mr. Bosch, we definitely can't say your life has been a smooth ride. What do you think of the life Mr. Connelly gave you?
H.B.-- Can’t complain at this point. He’s given me the opportunity to carry on my mission.
##--Do you think L.A. is a better place since you started cleaning it up, or trying to put some order in it?
H.B.-- I would hope so but I am not the person who can answer that. I know that my slate is pretty respectable. I have taken evil out of the picture. I can sleep when I go home at night.
##--Do you put more pressure on yourself as you get closer to retirement? Any sense of urgency in trying to solve more cases?
H.B.-- Not really. I do what I can do. I think that whether I am carrying a badge or not I will still on a mission, in one form or another.
##--You seem less troubled recently than you were at some point in your career. Is it just accepting the fate of the world and your own?
H.B.-- I don’t think I am accepting of anything. But things happen in life that can smooth the hard edges. Maybe that’s what has happened to me. I do what I want to do. Not many people can say that. I have a young daughter and a lot of hope for her and her future. It’s all about hope. If you have it working in your heart then you are in a good place.
##--How do you feel about leaving the work into others' hands?
H.B.-- If it’s my work then I don’t like to give it up. I like to think that I am someone who carries his own water.
##--And what do you see yourself doing after leaving the job?
H.B.-- I don’t know. I hope at the end I’ll be one of those guys who opens the front door at the end of the day and says, “honey, I’m home.” That would be nice to have.
## Back to Mr. Connelly: can you name two books you wished you had written and why you'd recommend them?
M.C.-- The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler and Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Both books are wonderful accomplishments. Both books were genre changers. Both books started a chain reaction in which legions of writers and readers followed.
##Last question, the one I ask every writer I interview: let's say there's a crime novel written with you as the main character; what would be the first sentence of the book, and how would your character die?
M.C.-- First line: He was brilliant at solving life’s mysteries but only so-so at solving crimes.
Last line: Shortly after his grandchildren visited and left for home, Detective Connelly went to sleep and he never woke up.
(Title of the interview inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: “Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.”
I am very thankful to Michael Connelly for taking the time to answer this mountain of questions. Thank you also to Shannon Byrne, Jane Davis, Fawn Charron and Melanie Storoschuk.
(Read the long interview with Michael Connelly in the Interrogation Room section)
In my opening statement, I’d like to mention that if Michael Connelly was a surgeon and I was a patient about to undergo a tricky operation, I’d feel in very good hands. Connelly gives the impression that nothing will escape his scrutiny, that everything is very much under control and everything will be alright; he is experienced, a pro in his field and his reputation precedes him. He knows he hasn’t seen it all, just like a good doctor knows that his science is too vast and unpredictable for him to know everything, but they both know that by working hard and honestly at what they truly love and respect, they will get the job done and will be better prepared than anyone else. If something unexpected were to happen, they’d be ready. I intend to prove this statement.
When you’re at the top of your game, millions of readers await your next book with anticipation, reviewers are ready to scratch at your reputation if you so much as offer a less than excellent story. As the saying goes “It’s tougher to stay at the top than it is to reach it”. With The Fifth Witness, Connelly need not worry; he can keep his throne for a while longer; and his reputation very much intact too. This is one of his most complete books in every aspect; his prose is meticulous, as sharp as a scalpel, and he keeps every threads of the story tightly knit together –like expertly done stitches. As usual for Connelly, no detail is unnecessary; he’s not there to try to fool the reader, he just wants to tell a story. One that will grip the reader right from the start, when we find Mickey Haller in his ‘office’ (his bulletproof Lincoln Town Car) up until the finale, when some earlier details end up revealing the truth, the whole truth, and a bit more than that for the defense lawyer.
Mickey Haller was also the main character in Connelly’s brilliant book The Lincoln Lawyer; Matthew McConaughey personifies Haller in the recently released movie adaptation. Connelly then wrote a few other books starring Haller: The Brass Verdict and, more recently, The Reversal in which the lawyer shared the spotlight with detective Harry Bosch. In-between these books, Connelly gave Haller a much shorter but very important, in-your-face role in 9 Dragons (the kind of role that in a movie could bring a lot of attention on an actor in a supporting role). Here, in The Fifth Witness, Mickey Haller is now representing homeowners fighting foreclosure cases; Mitchell Bondurant, a banker in charge of many of these foreclosure files, is brutally murdered. One of Haller’s clients, Lisa Trammel, is arrested as the main suspect and quickly charged as the murderer. She hires Haller and his team to defend her in court, in what becomes a highly publicized trial.
The reading, especially at the beginning of the book, can sometimes feel a bit dry or journalistic when concentrating on technical details of the law, but if you enjoy legal thrillers and crime stories, and if you think you’ve read them all, you’re in for a surprise. You won’t want to let go of this one. It is a very intimate portrait of the insides of the justice system through those who believe in it and who represent it everyday. This novel exceeds the realm of fiction by giving the readers a realistic insider’s view of how a defense lawyer prepares his case with his staff; how he adapts and reacts at what the prosecution brings forth during the trial; how he tries to predict, not only the prosecution’s next moves, but also the judge’s reactions and decisions; and also how he tries to solve the riddle of the entire case, all in the best interest of his client. As in every case he works, Haller is not really interested in knowing if his client –Lisa Trammel- is guilty or not because “there’s nothing scarier than an innocent client”, just as a surgeon would probably tell you that “there’s nothing scarier than a healthy patient”, especially once the patient is opened up in the OR.
The Fifth Witness should be mandatory reading in creative writing classes as well as in law schools. It is not a thrilling ride of adrenaline rush, breath-taking scenes of pursuits in cars, nor is it a scary/creepy/terrifying story of a serial killer. It is more subtle than that, similar to an old-fashioned tale of good versus bad (The Suspect vs The People) but with a wider gray area in the middle where each side’s identity blurs and becomes indistinguishable from one another. I wrote “old-fashioned tale” because the story relies more on the narrative abilities of the author than on special effects; there isn’t much blood, even though there is a murder, a few beatings, and life-threatening situations. Connelly demonstrates his strength in storytelling because it takes talent and experience –and self-confidence—to depend mostly on the story itself instead of on artifices and tricks of deception.
Connelly honed his writing skills during his years as a journalist; incidentally, sometimes it was in courtrooms covering trials or while following the work of Florida attorneys Roger Mills and Daniel Clay (from whom Mickey Haller is reportedly inspired). Some of Connelly’s best assets are his clean writing and his drive to keep a constant focus on the main goal, which keep the readers attentive and glued to the page at all times. A Connelly reader knows that you can’t skip a paragraph, much less a page, because everything is there for a reason and you might miss an important detail or clue; every chapter brings some new information that will keep the plot moving forward.
In The Fifth Witness, the reader might feel that something’s up towards the end, that all is not what it seems or should be, but that’s just because we know to expect a surprising twist at the end of a good book. Connelly manages to surpass this and he even delivers an astonishing conclusion, one that promises new developments in Mickey Haller’s future.
In closing arguments, I’d like to add that Michael Connelly is proving once more that whatever he decides to write, crime or legal thrillers, he can do as well as, and most times better than, anyone. To me, the pleasures of reading a story by Michael Connelly reside in a feeling of familiarity and comfort in knowing that what I read is close to a certain reality, but that, for a few hours, it will also take me out of my reality. Connelly’s attention to the little details, to the exactitude of speech and to the complexity of plot intricacies, added to his unflinching dedication, make a book like The Fifth Witness a must-read. I hope members of the jury will agree with me.
The defense rests.
(I've read an ARC from Hachette Book Group Canada)
JF 27 March, 2011