A rewarding diversion for veteran crime writer

Michael Connelly was known for his detective, Harry Bosch, until the success of The Lincoln Lawyer and its protagonist Mickey Haller, says Declan Burke

The Gods of Guilt
Michael Connelly

Orion, €19.99

EARLY in the new Michael Connelly novel, The Gods of Guilt, defence lawyer Mickey Haller — aka the Lincoln Lawyer — emerges from the courthouse, rushes down the steps and sits into the back of his Lincoln town car, only to discover it’s the wrong Lincoln.

“What happened after the movie [The Lincoln Lawyer] came out,” says Connelly, “was I started hearing from people who were saying, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the way I operate as a lawyer as well’. So there’s a lot of copy-catting, and so forth, going on, and I really enjoyed breaking that fourth wall and mentioning that there’s a film out there in which Mickey Haller is portrayed by Matthew McConaughey. And I thought it’d be a fun thing to do, that Mickey comes out of the courthouse and doesn’t know which Lincoln town car is his.”

Connelly, in Ireland to headline the Irish Crime Fiction Festival, at Trinity College, was “very happy” with The Lincoln Lawyer movie, although its success has proved something of a double-edged sword.

“The movie version changed my profile,” he says, “and I ended up selling a lot of books, and the movie probably made the Lincoln Lawyer series more popular than the Harry Bosch series. That was strange for me, because I’m all about Harry Bosch, and doing The Lincoln Lawyer book in the first place was designed to allow me a break from Harry, so I could come back to him strong. So it’s a little bit odd to have the main character that I want to write about in life coming in second to that,” he says.

The title, The Gods of Guilt, refers to the jury, but it also has a personal resonance for Mickey. “He’s seeking redemption for things he has done in his professional life,” says Connelly, “but also in terms of very damaging things that have happened to people in his personal life.”

It’s Haller’s personal life, and his growth as a character, that have ensured Connelly is no longer ‘all about Harry Bosch’.

“I’m finding that the Lincoln Lawyer series is cycling the way the Bosch series did, just ten years later. I think it took me four or five Bosch books to really put that series on a plane where it was about Harry and his character, where I was thinking about that first, before I got into thoughts about plot. This is the fifth time I’ve put Mickey centre-stage, and I’m thinking more about him as a person, or a character, and how he sleeps at night and how he lives. So I feel good about that,” Connelly says.

Bosch and Haller have intersected in previous Connelly novels, and do so again in The Gods of Guilt, in a courthouse hallway. Bosch is a cop, driven to bring the bad guys to justice; Haller is a defence lawyer, whose job it is to see that his client — bad or otherwise — gets acquitted.

“It’s funny,” says Connelly, “but somebody said this great line — ‘Harry Bosch is driven by justice, and Mickey Haller is driven by a chauffeur’. That really underlines how different they are.”

Is the contrast between the ‘half-brothers,’ who have been appearing in alternate novels of late and have much in common, including teenage daughters, a ploy by Connelly?

“What’s deliberate about it is that I also have a daughter who is the same age as those girls,” he says, “and I think what I’m doing is that with one guy [Harry Bosch], and lucky for him, I’m writing about a father/daughter relationship that’s working — tentative, but working. And then there’s one that’s not working.

“So, on the one hand I’m working on what I don’t want to happen to me, and on the other hand I’m writing about what I think would be cool to have happen to me,” he says.

He shrugs, then grins. “I mean, it could all shift around. You never know.”

The Gods of Guilt is Connelly’s 26th crime novel, although he’s wary of pigeon-holing himself. “I really don’t go for any kind of classifications,” he says. “People say I’m a mystery writer, but I don’t even classify myself as an American writer — I’m just a writer.”

His enduring love affair with writing began while he was at college, and saw Robert Altman’s film of the Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye. He read and reread all of Chandler’s novels, then packed in his engineering course and went home to announce that he was becoming a writer.

His father suggested he become a policeman, to learn the world of crime from the inside, but, he says, “to become a detective you’ve got to spend years in a uniform and being that kind of cop first.

“And I didn’t think I had the personality, or desire, to go through that. So, going the Joseph Wambaugh route, where you do the work and then write about it, was knocked off early. Then, the journalism idea came up, and that sounded good to me.”

Connelly spent six years working the crime beat as a journalist in Florida and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Offered a job with the LA Times, he moved, in 1987, to California, the spiritual home of the private-eye novel. His debut, The Black Echo, was published in 1992. It featured Bosch, an LAPD detective, but Connelly never lost sight of his first literary love, the private-eye novel.

“Since the very first book, I’ve always had the idea that Harry would be an outsider with an insider’s job,” he says, “but every step of the way he would feel like an outsider. That’s the feeling I got, and the inspiration I got, from Chandler’s books. I was a journalist for a long time, before I started writing these books, and so there was a practical aspect when it came to deciding what I was going to write.

“Do I ignore all the years I spent in police stations and talking to detectives and learning about their world, and just go off and write a private-eye novel because I love those novels? No.

“I was practical. I wanted to get published. I followed the path of what I knew I could bring to the genre. So I made Harry Bosch a cop, but I certainly brought everything I’d learned from Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler to the character.

“In my mind, I visualise any Harry Bosch story, even though he’s a cop and there’s all kinds of people at his disposal, forensics, and so forth, I’ve always just viewed him in a tunnel by himself — the case is the tunnel he’s going through,” he says.

“When I think of Mickey Haller, the visual image has a lot of people in it — it’s a courtroom full of people. So one is more of a private investigation, and one is more of a public examination.”

The good news for Bosch fans is that the detective will soon feature in his own TV series — Connelly oversaw the shooting of the pilot show before coming to Ireland.

“I’m an executive producer,” he says, “and I co-wrote the script, with Eric Overmyer, who worked on The Wire and Treme. He’s a really good writer. So Harry Bosch is in really good hands, I think.”

Better still is the news that, even if Bosch is forced to retire as a cop in the next couple of books, he will likely reinvent himself as a fully-fledged private eye, the classic, romantic tarnished knight of the genre.

Could Harry go to work for Haller? “That’s an option,” says Connelly, “but that’d mean Harry would be working to help Mickey ameliorate the situations of some bad guys. I don’t see Harry being able to do that. If anything, I can see Harry and Mickey on opposite sides.

“I can see him being the kind of private eye who, maybe, comes in and does cases he’s not even asked to do,” he says, “something he’ll see in the paper, some injustice or some need for justice, that’s what will get him going. So, yeah, there could be some cool stuff ahead.”

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