Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Connelly's Lt. Bosch Moonlights -- in Other Writers' Books

April 4, 2006; Page D8

Crime-fiction novelist Michael Connelly's many readers look forward to a new book involving his popular series-protagonist LAPD Lt. Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch every year or so. (The author alternates Harry Bosch titles with novels featuring other protagonists. The most recent Bosch book was 2005's "The Closers"; the next Bosch title, "Echo Park," is scheduled for publication in October.

But in February, alert Bosch-watchers were rewarded with a bonus glimpse of the fictional Southern California cop -- not in a Connelly work, but in another writer's novel.

On page nine of "Strange Bedfellows," Paula L. Woods's just-published fourth book about fictional LAPD homicide detective Charlotte Justice, the female cop-narrator catches a glimpse of "a curly-headed, mustachioed guy" in conversation with her boss in front of police headquarters and thinks: Surely her lieutenant "couldn't be trying to get Harry Bosch transferred back to Robbery-Homicide, not after that case he screwed up. Or maybe...Bosch can fill the'll be vacating if you don't get your act together."

"Charlotte is at a point in her own paranoia about her job," Ms. Woods explained recently, "that she's afraid that she could be replaced. And when that book takes place [in 1993], I knew that Harry had been bounced out of RHD; that was his back-story. So I thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if he happened to be there, and she saw him?'...Michael's character I think is so iconic...there was no way that people would say, 'Who's Harry Bosch?'...It's a way of paying homage to the writer."

This fleeting appearance of Mr. Connelly's hero is the latest in a small but growing series of Bosch-sightings in other writers' books. The conscientious, moody L.A. police detective (who debuted in the 1992 novel "The Black Echo") has been interacting briefly with fictional colleagues, it seems, since 2001, when Joe Gores, a Northern California writer, worked a reference to Harry Bosch into "Cons, Scams, and Grifts," one of his "DKA File" novels.

"I stuck him in," Mr. Gores recalled, "not really as a character. I just had my [Bay Area] guys 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.'"

Mr. Gores got permission beforehand from Mr. Connelly for this cameo reference. "As far as I know," says Michael Connelly, now living in Florida, "that was the first time" another author made such use of his series lead. "Other times, I've just kind of heard about it....If it's happening, it's obviously a nice compliment. So, as far as I can tell, it's fine with me."

The most elaborate Bosch cameo yet was one in which Mr. Connelly himself participated. In 2003, when he and fellow detective-novelist Robert Crais each had books scheduled for publication at about the same time, the writers arranged for a Bosch appearance to be matched by a sighting of Elvis -- not Elvis Presley, but Mr. Crais's L.A. private-detective character Elvis Cole.

"The artful reader would recognize 'em," Mr. Connelly said, "because we think we have almost a hundred percent overlap in our audiences....So in my book 'Lost Light,' at one point Harry Bosch comes to a red light, and across the red light is a private detective he knows that's his neighbor, in the yellow Corvette; and they just kind of give each other the smooth-sailing signal.

"Then in Bob's book 'The Last Detective,' he had Elvis Cole taken to the Hollywood police station...and there he talks to another detective, unrelated to the case, who he knew was a Vietnam veteran; and he just gives a few descriptions that kind of made it clear, without naming him, that that was Harry Bosch."

Such overlappings of Bosch into other people's fiction seems an extension of a creative device Mr. Connelly himself employs on a grander scale. In the books of Michael Connelly (16, so far), major and minor characters from this or that series or stand-alone title wander in and out of one another's sagas all the time. The female-criminal lead of 1999's "Void Moon," for instance, has since been glimpsed in a couple of Harry Bosch novels. The journalist-sleuth of "The Poet" (1997) later played a part in one of Bosch's cases. And very sharp-eyed readers of the 2005 book "The Lincoln Lawyer" will spot that novel's eponymous attorney as the son of a man ID'ed long ago as the father of Harry Bosch.

"It's all part of the same canvas," is how Mr. Connelly describes 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 Mr. Connelly's modern-day tales. In a Bosch picture, the author 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 are many real-life people -- police officers, judges, bookstore owners, art historians -- who make cameo appearances under their own names in Mr. Connelly's fiction.

"There's a couple things goin' on there," the author said of his use of actual folk in his made-up stories. "One is: It helps me write the books...because it's people I know....So I automatically know what they look like, and how they sound, and their postures, and all these things that help me visualize the scenes I'm writing about.

"A second aspect of it is that they're usually people that have been very helpful to me, and it's a way of saying thanks....I don't do it without telling them....In 'Lincoln Lawyer,' I used a judge and everyone in her courtroom, from her bailiff to her clerk to the stenographer; and so I sent the pages, I wanted them all to read it and sign off on it -- because I'm happy not to use their names if they don't want them used."

Mr. Connelly, before becoming a novelist, was for nearly a dozen years a crime reporter, first in Florida and then in Southern California. (A collection of his journalism, "Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers," will be published this May.) In writing his fiction, he retains a journalist's urge to get the facts straight: "I try to be accurate about Los Angeles. Yes, I'm writing fictional stories; but I put them against a hard, factual surface. And that's not just getting the streets and the city right, but it's trying to get the politics of the police department right and so forth. So, yeah, it really comes out of my instinct as a journalist, I think."

But a novelist's instinct keeps him from using highly visible real-life figures in his fiction: "because if you get into well-known people -- it becomes something different." So when Harry Bosch and colleagues had cause in last year's "The Closers" to visit their department's chief (at one point, bringing him a cup of Starbucks coffee to induce quick access), Mr. Connelly borrowed real-life LAPD head Bill Bratton's Eastern accent ("De-paht-ment") but took pains to call his fictional character simply "the chief of police."

Nevertheless, while on a bookstore tour for the novel, Mr. Connelly got a surprise telephone call: "I'm not sure how he got my cellphone number, but -- it's Chief Bratton. And you know, I was careful not to use his name [in the book]; but he just went right by that, assuming that I was writing about him, and he said: 'You got everything right, except for one thing.' And I kind of braced myself; you know, was he upset about something?

"He said, 'I don't like Starbucks.'"

So the journalist-turned-novelist acquired another bit of true color he might someday add to his fictional L.A. canvas: "There's a little place up in Los Feliz, where he lives -- like, a Vietnamese doughnut shop. He goes there every morning to get coffee on the way in."

Mr. Nolan is the author of "Ross Macdonald: A Biography."

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