Is Michael Connelly America's Greatest Crime Novelist?
Connelly's mystery thrillers can't be put down
Novelist Michael Connelly was so inspired by Raymond Chandler’s character, Phillip Marlowe, he rented an apartment in Los Angeles where Marlowe had supposedly lived back in the 1940s and ‘50s. Connelly lived in this old, cigarette spotted place for several years and might have stayed longer if the place had air-conditioning! Consequently, most of Connelly’s novels take place in the City of Angels.
In an interview on Michael Connelly's website, Connelly had this to say about Raymond Chandler and L.A.: “What was different about Chandler and what really touched me was that his writing is so evocative. LA is a character in its own right. It turned my head.”
Michael Connelly grew up in Florida, where he graduated from the University of Florida in 1980. In 1987, Connelly got a job as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, the experience of which helped launch his career writing mystery and crime novels. As recorded in the aforementioned interview, Connelly said this about the start of his career in crime writing: “I wrote my first real murder story as a journalist for the Daytona Beach News Journal in 1980. It was about a body found in the woods. Later, the murder was linked to a serial killer who was later caught and executed for his crimes.”
After writing two novels for the experience as he put it, Connelly’s first published novel was The Black Echo (1992). The novel won the prize for the Mystery Writers’ of America Edgar Award for best first novel.
The leading character in The Black Echo is Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective ( and sometimes private investigator) Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, named after the fifteenth century Dutch painter known for his allegorical paintings of hell, sin and redemption. Bosch is a tough, cynical man, perhaps echoing Humphrey Bogart’s hard-boiled portrayal of Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character in the movies. As Connelly tells it, Bosch was emotionally scarred by his years of fighting as a "tunnel rat" in the Vietnam War, the memories of which motivate (or haunt) his character in this novel and others to follow. But Connelly claims Harry Bosch is nothing like him - except they both love jazz.
In Connelly’s fourth novel, The Last Coyote, published in 1995, Harry Bosch tries to solve the mysterious murder of his mother, a prostitute killed back in 1961. The evidence leads Bosch to some shady political characters that might kill him if he gets too close to the truth. At one point in the book, Bosch realizes he’s nothing more than a loner and a dying breed, similar to this coyote he sees prowling the streets of L.A. (If the reader wants to pick one of Connelly’s books to see if they like his material, try this one; there probably isn't a better one.)
In 9 Dragons, published in 2009, while investigating an apparent Asian Triad murder in L.A., Bosch’s teenage daughter, Maddy, while living with her mother in Hong Kong, is kidnapped and the kidnappers send a cell phone video of her abduction to Bosch, who is told to lay off the case in L.A. or he'll never see her alive again. As far as Bosch is concerned, his daughter represents purity and innocence in a world that doesn’t seem to have much of those qualities left. As it turns out, the Asian Triad abducted Maddy in order to sell her organs to the highest bidder and has no intention of ever returning her to Bosch!
FBI agent Terry McCaleb is another character Connelly explores in the novel, Blood Work, published in 1998. McCaleb is a heart transplant recipient who discovers that he obtained his heart with the help of the murderer he's trying to catch! Clint Eastwood played the leading role in a movie released in 2002. Later, Terry McCaleb teams up with Bosch to tries to solve a series of murders in A Darkness More Than Night (2001).
Relying on his journalistic roots, Connelly created the character, Jack McEvoy, who breaks the story of a serial killer who leaves “poetic” clues in the novel, The Poet, published in 1996. (The Narrows, a sequel to The Poet, was published in 2004). Aiding in the investigation is FBI agent, Rachel Walling, who had dated Bosch and now dates McEvoy. More recently, McEvoy and Walling team-up again in the story, The Scarecrow (2009), which is about another serial killer who probes the Internet for his young female victims.
Another recurring character in Connelly’s novels is lawyer Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half-brother. First featured in The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), Haller’s “office” is his car, a Lincoln, hence the title. In The Brass Verdict (2008), Haller joins forces with Bosch to discover if the man Haller defends against a charge of double murder is innocent or guilty. The Brass Verdict begins as engrossingly as any of Connelly’s books: “Everybody lies. Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie. A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this.”
Once again, Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch join forces in The Reversal (2010), a story about the trial of Jason Jessup, who has already served 24 years in prison for the murder of a 12-year-old girl. Jessup gets a new trial based on DNA evidence and is now out of prison. Per Bosch's investigation, he thinks Jessup may be planning more murders.
Connelly uses many other recurring characters in his novels, including LAPD Deputy Chief, Irvin S. Irving, an antagonist of Bosch, who has many antagonists because of his prickly demeanor and penchant for breaking the rules. But, for Bosch, it’s all for a worthy cause – seeing that criminals, particularly murderers, have to pay for their crimes.
In the novel, The Drop (2011), Detective Harry Bosch once more tangles with Irvin S. Irving, now an L.A. city councilman. Bosch investigates the death of Irving’s son, who falls from the seventh floor balcony of a prominent L.A. hotel. Did someone throw this man from the balcony or did he commit suicide? Curiously, Bosch is assigned to the investigation because Irving demands it, even though Irving is now Bosch’s nemesis and an implacable foe of the LAPD.
The Black Box
Detective Harry Bosch is back again in The Black Box, published in 2012. In this suspenseful tale, Bosch tries to solve a cold case murder that happened during the riots in Los Angeles in 1992. A pretty blonde journalist was killed during the riots, and Bosch suspects somebody murdered her, hoping the distraction of the riots would keep the cops from solving the crime. Eventually Bosch theorizes that the woman’s demise involved some National Guardsmen who had fought in the First Gulf War in Kuwait and also helped quell the violence during the riots in L.A.
The Gods of Guilt
Mickey Haller, the so-called Lincoln Lawyer, who, as you may recall, also happens to be Harry Bosch’s half-brother, tries to defend Andre La Cosse, a pimp accused of murdering Giselle Dallinger, a female prostitute Haller once helped avoid jail time by informing on a cocaine trafficker. Convinced that La Cosse didn’t kill Dallinger, Haller must discover who did, and his prime suspects are two cops who may have turned rogue.
The Burning Room
Harry Bosch teams up with rookie detective Lucy Soto, as they try to solve the murder of a man who had been shot 10 years ago and just recently died of complications associated with the shooting. The plot thickens when political motivations surface during the investigation. Also, working in LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit, Bosch and Soto try to find the arsonist who started an apartment fire that killed several children – and nearly killed Lucy Soto!
In this caper, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, join forces to defend a former black gang member who’s accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Now retired from the LAPD, Bosch is reluctant to become an investigator for Haller, because he would be “crossing” from the police to the defense. But after performing some crafty investigation, Bosch thinks the black man was framed and not guilty of committing the heinous crime, so he goes to work for Haller.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye
This novel includes two stories in one. In first one, a reclusive billionaire named Whitney Vance hires Bosch to discover if the woman with whom Vance had an affair decades before gave birth to the child she carried when she suddenly disappeared. At stake is billions of dollars in inheritance money. In the second one, Bosch, now working as a part-time detective for a small police department in Los Angeles, hunts for a serial rapist with the case name the “Screen Cutter,” because that’s what the rapist does every time he breaks into a home before sexually assaulting women.
The Late Show
This book introduces a new leading character in Connelly’s crime novels. Her name is Detective Renée Ballard and, while not working the graveyard shift, when all the screw-ups supposedly work, she likes to surf and play with her dog. She also enjoys the company and attention of attractive men. In this tale, Ballard tries to identify the shooter of five people at a local nightclub. She thinks the murderer is a cop but will have a very hard time proving it.
Two Kinds of Truth
As usual, this novel has two stories to tell. In the first one, a convict named Preston Borders, serving time for rape and murder, accuses Harry Bosch of planting evidence in a case that Borders lost decades before and now seeks his release from prison. Because of Borders’ accusation, the evidence box for the case is reopened and DNA evidence is found, seemingly exonerating Borders. In the second case, two pharmacists, a father and son, are shot and killed at a pharmacy. As the investigation unfolds, Bosch learns that the two men were involved in illegal opioid trafficking and he decides to go undercover to discover who murdered these men.
Dark Sacred Night
Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard have become a crime-solving team, so get used to it! They join forces to investigate the cold-case homicide of a 15-year-old runaway girl who “worked” as a prostitute on the streets of Hollywood until she was brutally killed ten years before and her body left in a dumpster. Feeling sorry for this poor girl, Bosch befriends her mother who struggles against opioid addiction and still hopes somebody finds the murderer of her daughter.
The Night Fire
Once again, Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard try to solve a series of murder cases in the City of Angels. Renee Ballard seems a female version of Bosch; both are tough as nails and willing to bend the rules whenever they think they must; both are also dedicated to bringing as many murderers to justice as they possible can, and in order to do this they must have what Bosch calls “the night fire.” Anyway, among other capers Bosch and Ballard must solve, they try to track down and arrest the so-called Black Widow, a female “hit girl” who’s about as formidable and dangerous as any foe they’ve ever faced.
Connelly also wrote a nonfiction book about his experiences as a crime reporter entitled, Crime Beat (2006).
Regardless of the characters he features in his stories, Michael Connelly creates believable scenarios based on his own experiences as well as a great degree of factual verisimilitude, such as providing details about the science of criminal profiling for serial homicide. If one wants to learn about what homicide detectives, lawyers and journalists do in the arena of the crime world, then reading Michael Connelly’s books is an excellent way to learn about such and have page-turning fun at the same time. Simply put, Connelly will inform and entertain regarding the eternal struggle between right and wrong.
And as long as Connelly’s novels evoke some of the genius of Raymond Chandler, he may be America’s greatest crime novelist – or at least one of the best.
For more information about Michael Connelly click on the following link: http://www.michaelconnelly.com/
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© 2010 Kelley Marks