What a Character! Los Angeles Plays a Role in Michael Connelly Books

Author shows how LA connects in his stories

Los Angeles has long played a central role in crime fiction. Raymond Chandler used it as a backdrop in his 1940's novels. Dragnet brought it to early television. This weekend, some of the nation's top crime fiction writers will be taking part in the Men of Mystery conference in Irvine.

The key speaker is someone who captures the grittier side of Los Angeles better than anyone else.

Author Michael Connelly learned this as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Connelly says an overlook on Woodrow Wilson Drive has been a central location for his fictional detective, Harry Bosch. He actually found the place in 1989 while covering a murder for the Times and it was perfect for the character he was creating.

"I think I would like to have him live here," Connelly said, "because I wanted this device that in each of the books at some point, Harry would look out at the city and kind of contemplate the city and his place and the future."

Harry Bosch of the LAPD is featured in 15 of Connelly's 20 best-selling books -- and Los Angeles is a featured player in most of them, too.

"Los Angeles plays a very big part in my books, because it's a character itself and it helps me deliver the character I write about," Connelly said.


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It is almost as though the city itself is central to the stories because, as Connelly noted, it's a "destination city," a place where "there's many locations where you feel you should look over your shoulder."

Much as Dragnet went after "just the facts" of police work, Connelly, the former newspaper reporter, salts his police procedural novels with a look inside the LAPD. This, he said, is a way of creating character.

"I'm trying to build a character in Harry Bosch that has an almost empathetic connection with the reader," he said.
He added that showing how he does his job, "the minutia of the job, the routine of the job" are ways of delivering "this person as a real human being."

"I do not do procedure in my books to show how crime is solved," he said. "I'm looking for little details that'll open a window that will show what life is like."

And just as modern police work often extends beyond local borders, Connelly sent Harry Bosch out of the country in his latest book, "Nine Dragons." He sent him to Hong Kong, which in a sense, became a Los Angeles substitute. Connelly called it a "fish out of water" story.

He decided on Hong Kong after visiting the city five years ago.

"There's much going on," he said. "There's so much. It's a vertical city, a beautiful city -- water, mountains almost the same kind of things you could describe Los Angeles with -- I found there."

And there was something else.

He called it "another place where you look over your shoulder."

Connelly described Bosch as a conglomeration of real and fictional cops he has known and while he no longer lives in Los Angeles, Harry Bosch still does.

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