[2 December 2011]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The metaphorical bookstore of crime fiction is crowded with best-selling titles and talented writers, few of whom can outgun Michael Connelly.
The prolific Connelly, 55, covered crime for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel in the 1980s (where he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize), then did the same for seven years at the Los Angeles Times. The insider’s knowledge that came with the territory has served him well.
“The Drop,” in bookstores this week, is the 17th title in his police-procedural series starring Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, introduced in “The Black Echo” in 1992. The LAPD homicide detective is a tough loner at odds with bureaucracy and his past. He’s a cop’s cop dedicated to his profession but ever mindful of his personal code: “Everybody counts or nobody counts.”
In “The Drop,” Bosch catches two very different cases. One is the suicide (or murder?) of a longtime enemy’s son. The other involves a DNA match to a sexual predator who couldn’t possibly have committed a string of serial killings. Or could he?
Connelly has three other series as well, featuring criminal-defense attorney Mickey Hallar (“The Lincoln Lawyer” is one of four), retired FBI profiler Terry McCaleb (“Blood Work,” one of two) and Los Angeles Times crime reporter Jack McEvoy (“The Scarecrow,” one of two). Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie “Blood Work” in 2002. Matthew McConaughey starred in “The Lincoln Lawyer” earlier this year, with Marisa Tomei and Ryan Phillippe.
Connelly is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and has won most of the awards given in his genre, including the Edgar and Macavity. His novels consistently top best-seller lists and have been translated into 36 languages.
Connelly moved from Los Angeles to Tampa, Fla., 10 years ago, with his wife and teen daughter. He regularly commutes between the two cities, “especially lately,” he said. “We’re trying to turn ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ into a TV show for ABC.”
I caught up with him by phone in New York, where he was preparing for a national tour of “The Drop” (Little, Brown, $27.99, 400 pages). Visit him at www.michaelconnelly.com.
Q. In “The Drop,” Harry is juggling two big cases, which is unusual in crime fiction.
A. In fiction, yeah, but every real cop has a stack of open files they work on when they can. I tried to do a story that added a little more verisimilitude than I usually have. Readers will be looking for (the two cases) to intersect, but if they never intersect it would be more like real life.
Q. Harry seems more emotional this time out. He threatens to shoot a murder suspect, and gets irritated with his partners.
A. The older you get — Harry is 61 — the more you get the sense that this is not how you thought things would end up. So you tend to wear your frustrations on your sleeve. He has a quick response to things not being done right and not being fair.
Q. He’s certainly patient with his 15-year-old daughter, Maddie.
A. That’s at the heart of the story. She’s an observer of him, and their relationship is scary to him because he wasn’t around the first 11 years of her life. Now he’s trying to be a father, and his learning curve is very steep. She’s been through some strange times herself. She grew up in Hong Kong, lost her mother (in “7 Dragons”) and now is being raised by this cop who’s always been on his own. He does things with her that I find endearing, but that most parents wouldn’t be doing. Like taking her to gun ranges.
Q. Your daughter is 14. Did you model Maddie after her?
I tried to, but they have different back stories. But, yeah, the idea of communicating by text with (my daughter) is a part of my life, like it is Harry’s. My daughter has pretty much ignored me for most of her life, and now she’s reached the stage where she’s interested. Like Maddie, she’s observing me. It used to be the other way around.
A. Readers can’t seem to get enough crime fiction. What’s the attraction?
Q. There’s always a high-stakes story and there’s usually a comforting arc to it — there’s a crime and then a solution. There’s also subliminal comfort because (the form) restores order to disorder, and we all have complicated lives and we seek order.
The characters have to overcome significant obstacles — sometimes within themselves — to win the day. We all overcome obstacles in our lives, so we can connect on that level. Harry’s big obstacle is bureaucracy, and you don’t have to be a homicide detective to encounter it. It’s fun and reassuring to see someone like him deal with it.
Q. Most of your books involve or touch on the LAPD and/ or the Los Angeles Times. Sometimes you’ve been pretty harsh.
A. You can talk about an institution and its issues and problems, but that doesn’t mean you’re slighting the people who are doing the best they can. I can castigate the (bureaucracies of both), but the individuals like what I’m doing. I have some very good friends in the LAPD, and I’m always bouncing stuff off them. The result is a level of accuracy in my books that pleases those in the know.
Q. Did you hang out on the set of “The Lincoln Lawyer”?
A. I went to the set four times, it was cool, but Marisa Tomei was never there. Before they started filming, I met with McConaughey and introduced him to a couple of lawyers who were the key inspirations for the Mickey Hallar character. And I spent time with Ryan Phillippe. Yes, I did love the movie.
Q. What’s the writing like these days?
A. I’m devoting a half-day to writing my next Bosch book, “The Black Box,” and a half-day doing whatever my publisher wants me to do.
Q. You and Bosch are serious guys. What makes you laugh out loud?
A, Physical comedy.
Q. Like the Three Stooges?
A. Yeah, and their modern equivalent. What was that movie about the woman getting married? “Bridesmaids,” yeah. That was funny.