Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Tonight I will be interviewing Michael Connelly at Waterstones in Piccadilly, to celebrate publication of his 30th novel, The Late Show, which features a new main character, LAPD night shift detective Renee Ballard. As I prepared for the interview I realised that I wrote my first review of Connelly 20 years ago. The novel was Trunk Music (his fifth Harry Bosch novel, and his sixth overall) and the review was published in the Spectator. It was, I think, his first major review in this country. Not long after that, I met Michael when he was reading in Melbourne, Florida, and I've been lucky enough to stay in touch, and to be asked to write an afterword to his collection of journalism, Crime Beat. So I thought I'd reprint that first review, from the Spectator, 8 March 1997. I also discovered that Connelly was mis-spelled throughout, and I've finally corrected that. One line from the close of the review was used as a blurb on any number of Michael's later books, which more than made up for the typo!


by Michael Connelly
Orion,£16.99, pp.375

The Los Angeles inhabited by LAPD detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch resembles the paintings of his Flemish namesake. Horrors lie underneath the surface of a garden of earthly delights. The classical gives way to the modern; Trunk Music, Michael Connelly’s fifth Bosch novel, is also the first post-OJ police novel; the ghosts of Judge Itoh and Johnnie Cochrane are never far from the thoughts of cops like Bosch, nor from Bosch’s real Nemeses: lawyers, politicians, and police administrators.

When the body of soft-core porn video-maker Tony Aliso is found in the trunk of his car with two .22 shells in his skull, on a hill overlooking a concert in the Hollywood Bowl, it appears to be a classic mob hit (“trunk music”). The trail leads Bosch quickly to Las Vegas, and to an apparent solution. It also leads him back to a woman who betrayed him, in the very first Bosch novel, The Black Echo. The situation may seem old hat but Connelly makes it work by constantly confounding your expectations as he finds new angles to pursue. His stories have more twists and turns than Mullholland Drive, but they never divert you from where they should be going. Because the murder is only part of the story, the rest is Harry Bosch, his character, and his conflicts with authority, the forces of control whose toes he inevitably steps on. “Who polices the police who police the police?” is a favourite Bosch line.

Character is action, said Fitzgerald, and the way Connelly gets to the core of the situation through Bosch suggests the genre’s best writers. If Bosch resembles Hammett’s Continental Op, a lone wolf who’s honest in a corrupt world, the woman who betrayed him is his Brigit O’Shaugnessy. Trunk Music also recalls Chandler’s relishing of the sleazy Hollywood milieu and his use of Las Vegas as a contemporary Bay City, where respectable people go to be bad, and bad people go to help them. The hothouse corruption of Aliso’s wife and the deserted settings in the Hollywood hills smack of Chandler at his best.

There is no new ground broken in Connelly’s prose style, but he writes with sensitivity to nuance, the kind of undercurrent often missed in conversation. He is particularly good in the interplay of verbal and psychological warfare. This was shown best in The Last Coyote (1995) , where Bosch fences with the police psychologist who must decide if he is fit to return to duty after he has assaulted his chief, the wonderfully named Harvey “98” Pounds (as in the American equivalent of 7 stone weakling). 

Bosch uses his suspension to investigate the murder of his mother, a prostitute, who gave him his name because she had no father’s name to use. There is more than a hint of James Ellroy in the pursuit of this case, which leads to revelations of Chinatown-like corruption. Although he lacks the innovative prose fire of Ellroy, Connelly has the skill to create a powerful new story out of familiar materials to create a new story with its own power.

After The Last Coyote, Connelly changed gears with The Poet (1996), a serial killer novel which is interesting, but hampered by the use of a reporter as its protagonist. The journalist, oddly, lacks the psychic empathy to the killer that the cop may have, the kind of feeling for criminals that Bosch has. The Poet, of course, became a best-seller in America. Trunk Music marks Bosch’s return, and lives up to the high standard of The Last Coyote. This is the strongest crime series being written in America right now, and Trunk Music gets an unqualified recommendation.

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