An Interview with Michael Connelly
By Sarah Morgan
“The finest crime writer on the planet.” That’s how Mark Bellingham describes his friend and fellow author Michael Connelly. Now a legendary figure within the crime genre, he’s sold more than 80 million copies of his novels worldwide, and has been translated into 40 different languages.
And yet, had fate not intervened, he might never have put pen to paper. In fact, it feels as if he was always destined to become a crime writer (he tells an incredible story about how, at the age of 16, he followed a guy to a bar after seeing him dump a gun in a bush), he just needed a shove in the right direction.
“I was going to college, doing building construction science,” he says of the moment his life changed. “I wasn’t doing well, but I was spending time at the student union, where they showed the movie The Long Goodbye in about 1974/75. I loved the movie, went to the store, bought the book, loved it, went back and bought all Raymond Chandler’s novels.
“Then I drove five hours to my parents to tell them I wasn’t going to build houses, I was going to build stories. I got total support. My dad said, ‘we have to find a way to get you in a position where you are able to do that’.”
That position involved going back to college to study journalism, after which Connelly landed a job as a reporter at the LA Times.
“It stood me in good stead, the work ethic, for sure. I got a press pass so I could get into all sorts of places as research.”
Fate continued to play a part in his fledgling fiction career, because it was while reporting that he met the detectives who would inspire his most famous creation, LAPD officer Heironymous ‘Harry’ Bosch.
“Bosch came from a lot of places, I met a lot of detectives through journalism,” explains Connelly. “There was a guy, a Vietnam vet, who became a homicide detective, and always became emotionally involved in his cases, so he was an inspiration, but there were many.
“Things drop into your lap”
“And you should never miss an opportunity to build character, and that includes the name. Harry was originally called Pierce, but then I went to an art class and the teacher spent a month studying Heironymous Bosch. The paintings are about the wages of sin, the world in chaos. Some people get the reference, some people don’t.”
Since then, other chance events have taken place which have influenced Connelly’s work. After being introduced to real-life detective Mitzi Roberts, he was able to use her experiences to create the character of Renee Ballard, who is now a crucial part of the Bosch books.
Then, while filming the Bosch TV series in the small town of San Fernando, he met a cop who suggested Harry could work there after retiring from the LAPD – there isn’t the budget for a full-time police force, so a third of officers are volunteers. Connelly duly wrote it into his books.
But perhaps the most incredible turn of fate, stroke of luck, or whatever you want to call it, came when he least expected it, enabling him to devise another long-running series of books.
“I was talking to a guy at an LA Dodgers game,” claims Connelly. “He told me he was an attorney working out of his car – and that’s how The Lincoln Lawyer was born. When things drop into your lap, you should use them!”
On the first night of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, Connelly received a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his long and successful career. But he isn’t resting on his laurels – there’s plenty more of Bosch to come.
“I like what he’s doing at the moment, so I’m happy, although I don’t plan too far ahead.”
Connelly then adds: “The joy that comes from writing hasn’t changed at all. I like writing novels. When they let you do it, it’s pretty special. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”