Michael Connelly doesn’t actually solve crimes. At least not yet. The former Los Angeles Times crime reporter has been writing crime novels for 25 years, mostly focused on his widely beloved Harry Bosch character, a retired Los Angeles homicide detective. In Connelly’s latest book, “Two Kinds of Truth,” Bosch goes undercover as a San Fernando Valley opioid addict.
In an appearance before a crowd of dozens of fans at Book Passage’s Corte Madera flagship store Wednesday evening, Connelly explained why his books are always based in Southern California. It’s mainly because the best-selling author doesn’t want to jinx his success.
“I wrote two novels that never went anywhere, that were, you know based in Florida,” Connelly said in an interview before the Book Passage appearance. “So they were learning experiences, but ultimately they failed, because they weren’t published.”
Connelly continued, “I wrote a third book and it got published and I got some awards and I got some critical attention, so it’s like the light bulb goes off.” The author smiled, delighting at the memory. “Something here works. So let’s not screw around with that.”
Connelly has not only stuck with Los Angeles at a setting, but he kept his small apartment long after he was able to afford grander living quarters, afraid to disrupt the magic that surrounded his work. In fact, Connelly wrote many of his novels under the same standing lamp, an ugly farmer’s market purchase his wife eventually repainted. Maybe it wasn’t just setting his characters in Los Angeles that locked in success for Connelly – who actually lives in South Florida. Maybe it was the lamp.
“Writers are superstitious,” Connelly said. “Because of my complicated life where I live in Florida and make a TV show in Los Angeles and I’m moving around, I can’t take that lamp with me on planes.”
It’s on airplanes, jetting back and forth from his family in Florida to the “Bosch” set in Los Angeles, that Connelly does much of his novel writing these days. The frequent flier uses an abundance of first class upgrades to relax into his seat and get a solid five hours of work done while flying cross-country.
Unlike most writers, Connelly is regularly on the set of the television show, which streams online on Amazon. It was a part of the deal he demanded when the author sold the rights to develop Harry Bosch for the screen.
The irony that his books have been developed into a show by the very online retail company accused of hurting independent booksellers is not lost on Connelly. “I mean, you know, Amazon came to me and said, ‘Let’s make a television show.’ Was I supposed to take a stand and say ‘No ’cause you’re hurting bookstores?'” Connelly asked. “[Amazon] has certainly expanded the base of my readers and as a storyteller — and a storyteller with an ego — I want more readers, you know?”
“But I do hate the part that it can be at the expense of bookstores,” he said, “because I’ve been published long before there is any Amazon, before there were any digital books. And the base of my success took bookstores and people like [Book Passage owner] Bill [Petrocelli] to put my books in people’s hands and say ‘You’ve got to read this guy.’ That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a digital bookstore.”
Amazon has been a pretty hands-off partner when it comes to creating the “Bosch” series, something Connelly appreciates. “One of the things — one of the great things — about doing this for Amazon is the freedom they gave us,” he said. “I had some experiences where I’ve had two films made and they didn’t want me around.”
Connelly isn’t afraid to deal with controversial topics, including one that’s very much in the current news. In “The Late Show” a novel released this past July, he introduced a new LAPD character, Officer Renee Ballard, who is assigned to the unpopular midnight shift because she reported sexual harassment within the department. Ballard takes that injustice and thrives, emerging as a tough, thriving heroine. The character is based on a real LAPD officer with whom Connelly is friendly. “I know people who have been victims of it,” said Connelly of sexual harassment and assault. “I have many women in my life who have had these experiences.”
Several retired LAPD officers were among the crowd at Connelly’s Book Passage appearance, including one Connelly uses as a frequent resource in his writing. Many lauded the author’s attention to procedural detail. Connelly makes a point of keeping his characters and their lives as true to police life as possible. He says he enjoys the challenge of making all that detail interesting to the reader, and reviewers seem to agree with the approach: The New York Times and USA Today praised the intricate detail yet fast pace of Two Kinds of Truth.
Recently, Connelly made a donation to the LAPD that allowed the department to create a “war room,” a specially designated space for detectives and officers to tackle particularly big crimes. One the wall, according to a slightly blushing Connelly, there is a quote from Detective Harry Bosch. It’s a motto of sorts that Bosch began using in the third book in Connelly’s series, a moral compass for the salty fictional detective – and now, perhaps, for the LAPD.
” ‘Everybody counts,’ ” the war room wall reads, ” ‘or no one counts.’ – Harry Bosch.”