Friday, June 24, 2005

Connelly stays true to crime
By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
Ask best-selling crime novelist Michael Connelly about his success, and the answer is deceptively simple.

"My stories," he says, "are very derivative of real life."

Indeed, his 15th novel, The Closers (Little, Brown, $26.95), is already a best seller (as high as No. 3 and currently No. 36 on USA TODAY's list) and is receiving rave reviews for its stark but detailed portrayal of life as an LAPD cold-case investigator.

Indeed, his 15th novel, The Closers (Little, Brown, $26.95), is already a best seller (as high as No. 3 and currently No. 36 on USA TODAY's list) and is receiving rave reviews for its stark but detailed portrayal of life as an LAPD cold-case investigator.

Back again is his protagonist, Harry Bosch, the hero in 11 Connelly novels. He has come out of retirement to join Open-Unsolved, a new unit that works to solve what TV's CSI, Law & Order and Cold Case refer to as cold cases — old, unsolved crimes that police still want to crack.

"The cold-case thing is the fad of the moment in entertainment because it's the fad of the moment in police work," says Connelly, 48. "Since the turn of the century, just about every police department has a cold-case unit. I just changed the name because it's so overused."

Advanced crime-solving techniques, though present, are not the meat of The Closers, Connelly says.

"There's a big difference between working fresh murders or fresh kills and working something that's really old. That's what really hooked me — that you could use this idea to take a look at the frayed social fabric that happens after a murder."

The reason Harry Bosch novels are so well received — multi-layered portrayals of cops and bad guys as well as colorful descriptions of life on the streets of Los Angeles — also helps explain why Connelly's next novel (The Lincoln Lawyer, due in October) will feature a never-before-used protagonist.

"My stand-alone novels are strategically placed to give my batteries a chance to recharge on Harry," Connelly says.

The Lincoln Lawyer is definitely different. It's a legal thriller, and for the first time, Connelly's main character is an attorney.

He got the idea about five years ago when he met a criminal lawyer who handled cases in sprawling Los Angeles County.

"He spent lots of time in his car. His car became his office," he says. "His driver was a client working off fees. The lawyer sat in the back and worked the phones and his computer. It seemed unique to me."

Connelly's eye for an interesting story dates back to his days as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times beginning in the late 1980s. His first novel, Black Echo (1992), won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers Association of America for best debut. All 15 of his books have been best sellers, and Bloodwork (1998) was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood.

"The crime novel is becoming the social novel," Connelly says. "Many writers who are drawn to crime novels write fairly quickly, sometimes one book a year. ... So it seems to me that the crime writers and the mystery writers, however you want to call them, are the first to comment on what's happening in our world.

"Traditionally, this had been the role of the literary novel, and it still is. But those books kind of weigh in after the fact, whereas the crime novels come out right away.

"Yes, entertainment is important. ... But there's also an exploration of the world we're living in."

City of Angels, city of novels

Michael Connelly, of course, is not the only crime novelist using Los Angeles as his backdrop. Among other current novels set there:

Savage Garden by Denise Hamilton (Scribner, $22). Hamilton kicks off her fourth novel with fictional Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to see a theater production. When the leading lady goes missing, Diamond works the case for the Times but also for her own sake. She suspects her boyfriend, Silvio, may have known the missing Catarina way too well.

A Venom Beneath the Skin by Marcos M. Villatoro (Justin, Charles & Co., $24.95). Romilia Chacón, the heroine in Villatoro's third novel about this feisty Latina law enforcement officer, is now an FBI special agent in L.A. When her boyfriend is found brutally slain, the top suspect is Tekun Uman, a drug lord with whom Chacon has tangled before.

Damaged Goods by Roland S. Jefferson (Atria, $23). Jefferson tells a fast-paced and original story about a group of seasoned thieves who pull a nearly impossible heist. The crew is led by Alonzo Crane, a federal inmate known as "The Motion Picture Bank Robber" because of his penchant for using details from Hollywood movies to plot out his robberies (think Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair). Caution: Damaged Goods contains gratuitous violence, illicit sex, coarse language, and drug and alcohol abuse. - Connelly stays true to crime

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