Event Recap: Author and Inspiration on ‘The Dark Hours’

Author Michael Connelly, Detective Mitzi Roberts, and CBC host John Freeman discussed The Dark Hours, Renée Ballard, Bosch, and how Roberts’s real-life work has influenced Connelly’s novels.

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Host John Freeman introduced Michael Connelly, author of our April California Book Club selection, The Dark Hours, by describing how his procedurals involve writing that looks at life in “its total complexity.” He asked Connelly about whether his relationship to dark and nighttime has changed the way he conceives of what it means to live in a “daytime dark-time universe.”

Connelly explained that in the beginning of his career as a novelist, he had a day job working at the Los Angeles Times, and so he was doing his early writing about detective Harry Bosch, the main character of many of his procedurals, through the night. He had a deal with his wife in which he was allowed to spend four nights a week and one day on the weekend in what was essentially a “writing closet.” He said, “The start of my career was birthed in darkness. I do like to write that way, but I have not sustained the writing-through-the-night stuff.”

Connelly went on to explain how his Dark Hours protagonist Renée Ballard works the night shifts, just as Mitzi Roberts, the LAPD detective who inspired Ballard’s character and who has helped him with books for many years, does. Connelly found out that part of Roberts’s way in as a detective, as a woman, was “to take the job that no one wanted,” working late at night. He explained, “When she told me some stories about that, I just knew right then—I was having breakfast with her—I knew I’m going to write about this, and that’s where Renée Ballard came from.”

Freeman noted that much of the texture of The Dark Hours comes out in the detailed interviews Connelly’s characters conduct. Connelly commented that those scenes are inspired by his “spending time with the kind of people I write about, and that would be detectives and lawyers. I’ve been in lots of courtrooms, and you can kind of see how lawyers work to get the diamond out of someone on the stand, how they might come at it from angles. I hate to call it research because the people are my friends first, I think, then research subjects after, but my research amounts to having breakfast and letting people tell stories.”

Roberts, the evening’s special guest, then joined the conversation. An audience member said that they’d always wondered why Ballard had a dog in Connelly’s novel The Late Show, his first told from her perspective, as it seemed to place unnecessary constraints on the character. Roberts said that she remembered that Connelly had sent her the book two or three months before it was due to come out. While she was reading about Ballard sleeping on the beach, she started to think, “Wow, would I do that? Could I do that? Could I live on the beach, sleep on the beach? And, you know, I could, but only if I had my dog to watch over me, and oftentimes when I would surf, I would have my dog, and he would wait for me and guard my stuff.”

Connelly agreed, saying, “And I thought, ‘You know, that’s right.… You can’t leave stuff on Venice Beach.’ And so, the dog was born.… It might not be on the page, but as I’m writing, I have to think of…who’s watching the dog, has the dog been fed, all that kind of stuff.”

Connelly and Roberts discussed her work as a consultant for the new show featuring Bosch, Bosch: Legacy, which will air on Amazon Freevee on May 6. In the show, Bosch’s daughter is a rookie cop. Roberts taught the actor who plays her, Madison Lintz, how to run like a cop: “I put her in my weighted workout vest, and poor Maddie had to run about two miles that day. But when viewers see the finished product, she’s going to look like a kick-ass cop.”

Roberts said that one of the best compliments she received at work as a cop was to be approached by another cop, who said, “Hey, I love that show! That’s the only cop show I can watch because you guys really get it right. They really get it right. It really feels like how things are done here.” She explained, “When Bosch first was bought by Amazon, we had a few rules.” One of them, she said, was that the show had to be realistic without being boring because that was important in Connelly’s books. She asked Connelly how he’d found the balance of excitement and technical accuracy in his books when 98 percent of police work is boring and only 2 percent is busting down doors and car pursuits and catching people.

He responded, “There’s good stuff in the 98 percent that might be called boring or routine, especially when you add in the entropy in a giant bureaucracy, the politics and so forth. I think you connect stories to your reader or your viewer…by how your characters overcome the obstacles in front of them.” •

Alta Journal will be at booth #111 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 23 and April 24. Please stop by to get your books signed by CBC authors and Alta contributors, including Connelly and the author of next month’s CBC selection, acclaimed writer Maggie Nelson. Join us again on May 19 at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Nelson joins the California Book Club to discuss her book The Argonauts with Freeman and a special guest. Join us in the Alta Clubhouse to discuss the book!

Anita Felicelli, Alta Journal’s California Book Club editor, is the author of the novel Chimerica and Love Songs for a Lost Continent, a short story collection.
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