The Lincoln Lawyer

 , a novel by Michael Connelly

Interview with Michael Connelly by Danuta Kean

Michael Connelly talks to Danuta Kean about how having children has affected his crime writing.

Fatherhood has had a big impact on crime writer Michael Connelly, creator of Harry Bosch. It has finally laid to rest the ghost of the cynical and burned-out crime reporter who created the Los Angeles detective 12 years ago. It is also why in The Narrows Connelly had to return to the territory of The Poet, his first book featuring Bosch.

"When I wrote The Poet I wanted to write about a burned-out journalist, because that was the way I felt," explains Connelly, who was a crime reporter before he turned to crime writing. "At that time I was dealing with the contradiction of being a journalist who had written about murders over the years, who knew that a high percentage of those murders were never solved or the murderers got away, and moving into writing fiction where no one ever gets away with it."

Connelly says that when he wrote The Poet all those years ago he was "cynical and burnt-out". Fatherhood has changed him. "As I became more connected to the world through becoming a father I started looking at the choice I made when writing The Poet and I wanted to rectify it. It has taken a number of years, but I did it."

The Narrows may be the product of a more optimistic Connelly, but it has lost none of his trademark style: spare prose, cracking pace and ingenious plotting. It reunites Harry Bosch with old faces, including former FBI agent Rachel Walling, to investigate the murder of Harry's old partner Terry McCaleb. It also marks the return of The Poet, FBI agent turned serial killer Robert Backus.

If ever a character was going to make readers' flesh crawl it is Backus. Is Connelly ever shocked by the emergence of such dark creations from his own imagination? He laughs. "No, no!" he says. "I know writers who say that has happened to them. It hasn't happened with me. I am pretty much the one controlling everything so nothing suddenly appears on the page leaving me thinking, 'Where did that come from?'"

Though Connelly is in control of his characters, he admits that he is sometimes surprised where they take him. "I don't map out my books, but I have a general sense about what they are going to be about and where they will go, but I am often surprised by how they end up."

Unlike other writers Connelly does not spend months researching each story before writing his first draft. "That would kill the idea for me," he says. Instead he plunges straight into a book once he has the idea, only researching technical details after the first draft is written. The process takes about a year from start to finish.

His background as a hard-bitten crime reporter means he has a pool of experience to draw upon for plots and characters, and it would be fair to say that without journalism, Connelly would not have become the crime writer he is today, not least because it left him with a strong admiration for the cops whose cases he reported.

His fascination with how the police do such a tough job without tipping over the edge is "essential" to his books, he says. "Being on the periphery as a reporter, I know that it has to be a tremendous challenge to do that job and remain whole, not to let the darkness get into you. I mean, how do you come home after seeing all the darkness of humanity, open the door and say to your wife, 'Honey I'm home'?"

In The Narrows the stark contrast between Harry Bosch private detective and Harry Bosch father is most apparent when he slips into his sleeping daughter's room to watch her sleep while he reads a file on a serial killer. The contrast between evil and innocence, mundane family life and twisted cruelty is stark.

With all his complexities, Bosch is a completely believable and sympathetic character. Where did Bosch come from in Connelly's imagination? "I drew him from life, though not necessarily my own," he explains. "In recent years there have been more parallels after he became a father, but he doesn't come from me."

Connelly resisted drawing to close a parallel between Bosch and himself for an essential reason: "It is what made him interesting. I can explore this person who is quite a bit different from me. I do take aspects of his life from different people I know."

For example? "I was too young to go to Vietnam, but it is a heavy background presence in my books, and when I venture into describing a memory, it usually comes from someone I know. They are not made up memories. I am always looking for little moments that ring true and if I can start with the truth then I am ahead of the game."

Connelly's journalistic training is not only apparent in his use of real life to infuse his books with gritty realism. It also taught him the craft of writing. "Your editor tells you how much room you have for your stories and it is never enough, so you learn to be spare and that every word counts," he says.

It has also lent a quality to Connelly's writing reminiscent of his writing hero, Raymond Chandler. Connelly first read Chandler, the King of LA Gothic, when he was 18. It was an epiphany. "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," Connelly recalls.

LA plays a central role in his books too. What is it with that city? "Because everyone comes from somewhere else and there is not a sense of home for many people, it creates tensions and situations in which anything can happen," he explains. "It is quite a dark rootless place."

Connelly himself has found his roots, thanks to fatherhood, which seems to have laid to rest the jaded hack he felt he once was. It has also given him a new perspective on the crime he writes about and the nature of evil in a mundane world. And the contrast has made that evil seem more frightening, more stark and more gripping to read.

Michael Connelly on writing

"The one piece of advice I would give someone about writing is a piece of advice that was given to me. It is that you have gotta keep your head down when you write. You can't put your finger in the wind to see what would sell and then write. You have to write what comes from within. You have to be confident that you are a member of the human race, so whatever your experiences are and how you translate them into works will be accepted by someone and hopefully a lot of someones. But you have to write for an audience of one."

Michael Connelly on readers

"I hear back from a lot of readers and sometimes it feels that they have taken Harry more to their heart than I have. He feels like an entity that they know. That is extremely flattering, but it does mean that when I kill off a character or don't come back to a reader there is room for upset. But you can't write with someone looking over your shoulder."

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