“Angel’s Flight” by Charles L.P. Silet
Michael Connelly’s novels have won just about all the awards given in the mystery/crime field: the Edgar, the Nero Wolfe prize, and the Anthony. His books have been best-sellers as well, and he has published them at a steady rate since the first, The Black Echo, appeared in 1992.
Connelly moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to work for The Los Angeles Times as a reporter, and he has set most of his stories in the Southern California/L.A. area, a locale heavy with mystery fiction associations–in the novels of Raymond Chandler, Joseph Wambaugh, and Ross Macdonald for example–and a city that “embodies the notion that anything can happen.” Although he began writing a series featuring the police detective Harry Bosch, Connelly now alternates his series with stand-alone novels, like The Poet (1996) and Blood Work (1998), in which he explores other protagonists and refreshes himself for the series books. The sixth of his Harry Bosch novels, Angels Flight, was published to great acclaim in 1999.
MysteryNet: Tell me a little something about your background.
Connelly: I was born in Philadelphia, but I grew up in Florida. My family moved to Fort Lauderdale when I was eleven, and I didn’t leave until I was thirty.
MysteryNet: How did you get from Florida to California?
Connelly: I was one of three Fort Lauderdale reporters who spent about a year working on a story that was basically a year later look at a major airliner crash in Dallas. That story was one of the three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize on feature writing the following year, and it drew attention to me from a lot of newspapers. I got a call from the managing editor from the Los Angeles Times and I went out there, which was also part of my secret plan or secret hope, because the most influential writers of crime novels, to me at least, all wrote about Los Angeles or Southern California. It was like a dream come true to be able to get a chance to go out to the place they wrote about.
MysteryNet: So did you continue to do crime reporting in L.A.?
Connelly: Yeah, I did crime reporting everywhere I was. I was a reporter about thirteen years, and I’d say nine or ten of them were directly on the police beat and the other few were covering the courts. I was interested in that world, so I turned down other opportunities or offers to move on to other beats. I just liked covering the police world, and I had this thing that none of my editors realized: I was almost looking at it as research for the time I would be ready to write fiction.
MysteryNet: Tell me a little bit about your detective Harry Bosch.
Connelly: When I was picking out stuff about Harry Bosch everything was the opposite of me because I thought it would more interesting to write about him. I come from a big family; Harry is an orphan. I have been married for a long time; he had never been married. He’s a smoker: I’m a non-smoker. He came essentially from that.He was also obviously influenced by James Ellroy, but more James Ellroy the person than James Ellroy’s writing. About the time I was putting this all together Ellroy’s book The Black Dahlia came out, he got a lot of local press attention that revealed his past, especially that his mother was murdered when he was a boy. It was pretty obvious to me, obvious to everyone, that that is what he’s about. What ever happened to his mother and so forth, he’s working it out now by writing about murder. I thought that was very interesting, so I made the jump and instead of a writer working out his mother’s murder by writing about it, I thought what about a detective who’s solving murders and in some way that helps him deal with his own mother’s murder? It’s just hinted at in most of the books, and in the details it is quite different from Ellroy’s life.
MysteryNet: The Last Coyote is the book where Harry finally begins to examine the death of his mother.
Connelly: I quit as a reporter just as I started The Last Coyote. That was the first book I wrote as a full-time fiction writer, I guess you’d call it. The story seemed appropriate to wrap the series up with. I was considering ending the series at that point.
MysteryNet: There are difficulties in maintaining a series as well as positive things trying to sustain one.
Connelly: As I said before, at that point I was thinking of actually ending the series because most series somehow get stale. After The Last Coyote I wrote The Poet, but in the process of writing it, I found I really missed writing about Harry Bosch.I think that points out one of the advantages of writing a series that if you have a character you really know and love, you’ll like to continue him because you have the opportunity to really delineate a full character over the breadth of your books that even a thousand page novel can’t do. You can show him over time. My books are in chronological sequence so I’ve been able to develop Harry in detail at six different points in his life.
MysteryNet: The Poet was in 1996 and you changed characters to a reporter, Jack McEvoy. How did you come up with that character?
Connelly: Having been a reporter I wanted to write about that world or I thought I did. I have to say that of the eight books I’ve written, writing The Poet was the least favorable writing experience. Just because it was too autobiographical or something, so I didn’t get the same fulfillment or fun I get from writing about Harry Bosch. I haven’t gone back to Jack McEvoy, although I’d like to find a way to make him interesting, and I think maybe the further away I am from being a reporter, the more interesting that would be.
MysteryNet: After The Poet you published Trunk Music in 1997 and Blood Work last year. How do you keep up the pace?
Connelly: I think I’m a quick writer, yes, and I think that is from being a newspaper reporter, where you had to be a quick writer and that gave me the work ethic. The other thing is that it’s essentially a mirage. If you look at the copyrights of my books, I’ve published eight books in eight years. But because they held my first book for twenty-two months, I was actually close to being done with my third book before my first came out, so it’s kind of built in a buffer. It looks like, wow, I’m writing one book a year, but they’re actually taking longer with the exception of The Poet. It seems to me that it take about fifteen months to write my Harry Bosch books.
MysteryNet: What about your non-series novel Blood Work?
Connelly: Blood Work was inspired by a good friend of mine who had a heart transplant in 1993. I was aware from spending time with him how much his life had changed, how much he was relying on the medical machinery, and how he had to take fifty-two pills a day. The main thing, however, that inspired it was that after he got the new heart he started exhibiting many of the emotions that I saw years earlier when I was working on that plane-crash story and talking to the survivors.The thing that touched me so much about those survivors was their survivor guilt–their emotional upset at surviving a crash where many other people didn’t and the happenstance of it. You know, like one person walks away without a scratch where the person in the seat next to them is killed. Though it’s no fault of their own, it delivers a burden to them. My friend, Terry, who had the heart transplant, had the same thing happen to him. It took him a long time to work it out and to reach a point of acceptance. Of all the things that he was going through, that touched me the most and inspired me to write a story that had someone in his situation where he felt beholden to the person who provided his heart.
MysteryNet: Have your non-series books done well?
Connelly: Although Harry Bosch is my main man, the reality is that my non-Harry Bosch books are far and away my most successful. The good thing about them is they bring people to Harry Bosch. I’m not saying that these non-series books are better but they are thrillers and the whole publishing machinery from publisher to advertising to bookstore can handle a thriller better than anything.The Harry Bosch books are classified as police procedurals, and they have a smaller piece of the pie as far as readers.
MysteryNet: Your novels seem very filmable. Are there any in the works?
Connelly: Nothing has happened yet, but six of the books have been optioned. None of them are on the shelf. They are all in various stages of possibly becoming movies.
MysteryNet: Let’s talk a little about your current book, Angels Flight.
Connelly: I wanted the book to have as one of its themes Harry recommitting to his home, to Los Angeles, at the same time that that community was possibly coming apart at the seams, which is a hard thing to do but hopefully it works. In the book there’s a murder, there’s a double murder actually, on this funicular train in downtown called “angels flight.” At one point he sees a mural in downtown that he really likes, and he has this realization that there are little pieces of grace everywhere if you look for them. That is really an underlying theme of the book, finding grace in himself and in the city and its people at the same time he is moving through a really dark underbelly of the city.
MysteryNet: You mentioned that Harry Bosch has become the mouthpiece for your own social concerns. What are your main themes?
Connelly: I think that’s why I write the books because I can’t encapsulate my themes in a few sentences or five minutes. I want the Bosch novels to be as closely reflective of contemporary life in Los Angeles as I can. In the nineties in Los Angeles there have been many problems and chief among them have been racial tensions, and I had not really written about that before I had gotten into Angels Flight.I think that moving through the scenes of racial tension that the case in Angles Flight brings to the forefront of the city reveals this noble person, this guy Harry Bosch, who has a good heart and is trying to do a good job in very difficult circumstances, If maybe people read the book and take some kind of inspiration from him, that’s really all I’m trying to say. I’m not trying to solve any kind of problems because I’m not really sure I can, but I’m trying to tell the story of one person trying to put things back together.
MysteryNet: What are you working on now?
Connelly: I’m back to writing a non-Harry Bosch book and to me this is my biggest challenge to date, because I’m writing a story with a female protagonist and that female is also a criminal. So it has two things I haven’t done before. The challenge is to make this read as though it has not been written by a man and to make this protagonist, who is a burglar, sympathetic to the reader to the point where they will want her to succeed in the end, in other words, get away. I’m really only about a third into it, so I don’t know how I’m doing yet.
Buy Michael Connelly Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com
Charles L.P. Silet teaches courses in film and contemporary literature at Iowa State University and writes extensively on the mystery field. He is currently working on a collection of his interviews with major contemporary writers.