Monday, October 19, 2009

Crime Fiction Alphabet - C is for Connelly

As I noted last Tuesday, my fellow Anzac and book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has created a great series where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, all linking to each other.

This week it is the turn of "C", which should provide my fellow book bloggers with many fantastic crime fiction books and authors to cover. I guess being the New Zealand 'voice', it might make sense for me to cover Paul Cleave, who is a rising star on the international stage. However I have already blogged about Cleave quite a lot lately (and no doubt will do more so in future, such as when his fourth book BLOOD MEN is released early next year), so instead I decided last week to write a "C" post about one of my all-time favourite crime writers, Michael Connelly, since I have just finished his latest Harry Bosch novel, NINE DRAGONS.

Given the events at Bouchercon over the weekend, when Connelly won the Anthony Award for his 2008 Harry Bosch/Mickey Haller novel THE BRASS VERDICT, it seems even more appropriate that Connelly is featured during our "C" week.

Put simply, you could make a strong argument that Michael Connelly is the biggest name in modern crime writing (over the past decade-plus). His books are loved by readers and critics alike, in dozens of countries around the world. Since his debut novel THE BLACK ECHO introduced both his storytelling, and his tremendous detective Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, to the reading world in 1992, Connelly has written 20 more novels (which have collectively been translated into 35 languages, and won most major mystery writing awards), several short stories, been the President of Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and edited several short story collections.

Born 21 July 1956 in Philadelphia, Connelly was introduced to mystery fiction by his mother, an avid reader. He grew up an inquisitive eldest child in Philadelphia, where his father was a sometimes-successful property developer, before the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, (Florida) when Connelly was 11. It was there that as a 16-year old he found himself involved in a police investigation when he witnessed a man dump a package that turned out to be a gun. However, he still headed to college (the University of Florida in Gainesville) intending to follow in his father's footsteps as a property developer.

It was while at the University of Florida that Connelly watched the Robert Altman film adaptation of Raymond Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE, which spurred him to head home, begin reading all of Chandler's books, and switch his major from building/trade to journalism, with a minor in creative writing.

Over the next twelve years after he graduated in 1980, Connelly worked as a crime beat reporter at first the Daytona Beach News Journal, then the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel (where he covered the South Florida cocaine wars), then the Los Angeles Times. He married his college sweetheart Linda McCaleb (Connelly fans will recognise the surname), and then in 1986 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for a heavily-researched story he wrote (with two other journalists) on the survivors of the 1985 Delta Flight 191 plane crash. That story sparked his shift to Los Angeles, for a job as a crime reporter at the Los Angeles Times.

Three years after joining the LA Times, Connelly's first novel THE BLACK ECHO was published (it was the third manuscript he'd written, but the first he'd tried to get published). The novel is the first of 15 Connelly novels to star Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch (who does also make small appearances in some others), Connelly's signature detective who shares his name with a 15th century painter who portrayed debauchery, violence, and "a world gone mad" in his work.

Bosch is a Vietnam veteran who has been demoted to Hollywood Homicide (from the prestigious LAPD Robbery-Homicide division) after he killed the main suspect in the Dollmaker serial killings. He finds himself investigating the murder of a fellow former 'tunnel rat', who might have been connected to a series of large-scale bank robberies. The debut also introduces a number of other characters who will play a significant part in the ongoing series, including Bosch's partner Jerry Edgar, and FBI Agent Eleanor Wish. THE BLACK ECHO won the MWA Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Connelly continued working as a reporter while writing his next three novels (THE BLACK ICE, THE CONCRETE BLONDE and THE LAST COYOTE), all featuring Bosch, before leaving journalism to write full-time. He'd received some nice publicity when TV cameras caught then-President Bill Clinton with a copy of THE CONCRETE BLONDE.

But although he left journalism for fulltime crime writing, his profession still founds its way into his writing life - his next novel, THE POET, departed from Bosch and centred on crime beat reporter Jack McEvoy, who is investigating the apparent-suicide death of his policeman brother. This novel also introduced occasionally-recurring character FBI Agent Rachel Walling. Even without Bosch, THE POET continued Connelly's success with critics and readers, and won the 1997 Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Bookseller's Association.

It was also the first Connelly book that I personally read - stumbling over it in a Nelson (New Zealand) bookstore around a decade ago, I was intrigued by the story of a reporter investigating his policeman brother's death, so I bought it, then read it, and loved it. It was one of those great 'discoveries' you can have as a reader with a 'new author', when you find an author that until then you'd never heard of, you really like their writing, and then you are rapt to find out they've been around for a while, so they have several other books you can read. You can read an excerpt from THE POET here.

After THE POET, Connelly continued with the Bosch series, as well as the occasional standalone (such as 1998's BLOOD WORK, which was made into a movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, 2000's VOID MOON, and 2002's THE LINCOLN LAWYER).

Over the more recent years Connelly has developed a habit of linking some of his popular characters from the standalones with Bosch and bringing them into that ongoing series (15 books and counting, including the recently-released NINE DRAGONS), as well as writing further books starring them. This creates a great sense of 'one larger world' in Connelly's writing, where all the characters from different books and stories connect.

For instance, FBI profiler Terry McCaleb stars in BLOOD WORK (1998), and then crosses paths with Bosch later in A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT (2001), as well as playing an important role in THE NARROWS (2004). Down-on-his-luck defense attorney Mickey Haller is introduced in THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2002) before sharing billing with Bosch in Anthony Award-winning THE BRASS VERDICT (2008), and making a guest appearance in NINE DRAGONS (2009).

Reporter McEvoy survives THE POET, before appearing in Bosch book A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT, Bosch/Haller book THE BRASS VERDICT, and starring in his own 'sequel' THE SCARECROW (2009). FBI Agent Rachel Walling works with McEvoy in THE POET and THE SCARECROW, and with Bosch in THE NARROWS (2004), ECHO PARK (2006), and THE OVERLOOK (2007).

"It's all part of the same canvas," said Connelly to the Wall Street Journal in 2006 when describing the way his various books tie together. "The main character of all this is Harry Bosch, and his real name is Hieronymous Bosch; and the starting-point of all this was the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch," whose grotesque 15th-century visions find oblique parallels through Connelly's modern-day tales. In a Bosch picture, Connelly noted, there are "many different stories going on . . . but they're all part of the same painting. . . . Things in one corner might not appear to be connected to something in the opposite corner; but when you step further back and see the painting as a whole, then it all fits together."

Adding yet another dimension to Harry Bosch's canvas, noted the Wall Street Journal, are many real-life people--police officers, judges, bookstore owners, art historians--who make cameo appearances under their own names in Connelly's fiction.

Bosch himself has become such an LA crime institution that other crime writers have taken to linking to Connelly's main character - with the LA-based detective making named and unnamed cameos in several authors' writings. NoCal writer Joe Gores referenced Bosch in CONS, SCAMS & GRIFTS (2001), having some of his Bay Area cops say: "Well, we were talking with Harry Bosch down at the Hollywood station; there's a murder down there, and he's gonna look into it for us." Connelly and fellow big-name LA crime writer Robert Crais (PI Elvis Cole novels) have also had their respective heroes make cameos in each other's books - unnamed but intentionally clear enough for long-time fans.

Connelly's latest book is NINE DRAGONS, which takes Bosch in a new direction - travelling to Hong Kong to try and rescue his kidnapped daughter. You can read an excerpt of NINE DRAGONS here, and you can watch a video of Michael Connelly talking about the book in Hong Kong here.

Over the 17 years since his crime writing debut, Connelly's books have won the Edgar, Anthony (thrice), Macavity (twice), Dilys (twice), Nero, Barry (twice), Audie, Ridley, Maltese Falcon (Japan), .38 Caliber (France), Grand Prix (France), and Premio Bancarella (Italy) awards. Along with dozens of other shortlistings/nominations.

As I noted yesterday, he has just won the Anthony Award again, for THE BRASS VERDICT, at the 2009 Bouchercon ceremony, where he was also the Guest of Honour (it is his third Anthony Award for Best Novel, after also winning it in 1999 for BLOOD WORK and 2003 for CITY OF BONES).

His bibliography thusfar runs as follows:

Harry Bosch series
The Black Echo (1992)
The Black Ice (1993)
The Concrete Blonde (1994)
The Last Coyote (1995)
Trunk Music (1997)
Angels Flight (1999)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001)
City Of Bones (2002)
Lost Light (2003)
The Narrows (2004)
The Closers (2005)
Echo Park (2006)

Other novelsThe Poet (1996), about Jack McEvoy & Rachel Walling
Blood Work (1998), about Terry McCaleb
Void Moon (2000), about Cassie Black
Chasing the Dime (2002), about Henry Pierce
The Lincoln Lawyer (2005) about Mickey Haller
The Scarecrow (2009), about Jack McEvoy & Rachel Walling

So what do you guys think of Michael Connelly? Have you read his novels? What do you think of Harry Bosch as a protagonist? Do you prefer the Bosch novels or the standalones with other main characters?


  1. Wow, what a great post, Craig! I have loved the Harry Bosch series since the beginning, and your post is such a great recap of the story of Michael Connelly's life, how he came to create Harry, and the books. I agree with you that one of the many reasons these books are so enjoyable is the "wider world on the canvas" in which characters intersect. I also like the campaigning element in them, for example the several books that addressed corruption in the LAPD and the rapid speed with which Connelly "wrote out" against some of the misuses of the then-newly created Department of Homeland Security long before anyone else did. Apart from anything else, Michael Connelly shows how it is possible to "have it all" - be a best-selling author loved by readers and the critics - without compromising his standards. Too often we see promising writers produce some good books, and then take a dive in quality in pursuit of --- something ---- (eg Cornwell, Patterson, Kellerman). Connelly shows them all the way to do it. Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading your post, which summarises so well why I love reading this author's books. Like you, I first heard of Connelly when The Poet came out, but being a bit of a nerd I didn't read that, but read the first Bosch book (The Black Echo). The minute I finished it I went straight out to the bookshop and bought the next 3 and The Poet.

  2. You are really an amazing fount of information, and don´t let any anonymous fools tell you otherwise :D

    And now I´d like your expert help: in which Ngaio Marsh novel do Agatha Troy and Alleyn meet each other?

  3. Hi Dorte - Inspector Alleyn and Agatha Troy (his future wife) meet in ARTISTS IN CRIME, the sixth Marsh novel, first published in 1938.

    Harper UK are putting out some 3-in-1 combos of Marsh books over the next few months (they've already started), which are being sold at very reasonable prices. I might have to pick up a couple while I'm briefly in the UK in Dec, because I'm not sure if/when they're being published in those sets in NZ.

  4. Excellent post Craig - I'm about to read THE BRASS VERDICT and usually love Michael Connelly's books. I've had BV on the shelves for a while now, but oyu know how it is is. His Anthony Award has pushed it into my hands.

  5. Great post. I have only read 2 Michael Connelly books and only liked one of those but you make a compelling case for me to have another go. I haven't read any of the Bosch novels and I always find a long-established series that I've never read quite daunting to work out where to start.

    In another string to his bow I noticed he made a brief appearance as himself in the TV show Castle (1st ep of series 2?) which aired last night here in Oz - he was playing poker with the crime fiction author who is the star of the show.