America needs us, Mr President

If politicians and police commissioners want a street-level view, they read crime writer Michael Connelly

When the definitive history of 20th century crime fiction is finally written, Bill Clinton will deserve a lengthy footnote. An avid reader of thrillers and detective novels, he has boosted the career of several high-profile authors including Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, Sara Paretsky and Harlan Coben.

Perhaps no one benefited more spectacularly from Clinton's patronage than Michael Connelly. In 1994, he was a fledgling author with a couple of novels to his name. These were well received but sold few enough copies to keep Connelly in his day job, reporting crime for the Los Angeles Times. Then the President allegedly walked out of a Washington bookstore and into a bank of waiting paparazzi carrying a copy of Connelly's third book, The Concrete Blonde. The image changed Connelly's life: one Harry Bosch book later and he could afford to write full-time.

"The Concrete Blonde incident helped my career quite a bit," Connelly says with characteristic understatement. "People were interested in reading what the President was reading; critics wanted to appraise it. But if there was a photo of Clinton with the book, I never saw it."

Almost two decades and 23 novels later, Connelly has become the quintessential crime writer's crime writer. When I asked several authors to recommend the autumn's best thrillers, almost everyone (including Lee Child and Mark Billingham) mentioned The Drop – the 17th instalment of Connelly's award-winning series featuring Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch.

In person, Connelly answers questions volubly and with great seriousness, but pours cold water on the slightest hint of pretentiousness. When I ask what drives the 55-year-old to write, his answer mixes the exalted and the pragmatic. "I write to make money. I write to support my family. But you can do all those things in other jobs. It comes down to artistic expression and self-exploration. That sounds really heady for someone who just writes crime novels. My books are entertainments, but they mean something to me and hopefully to readers too."

The Drop is tersely written and multi-layered. Besides having two grim cases to unravel, Bosch has to contend with his sharp-eyed teenage daughter, the political machinations at LAPD headquarters, and the ever-looming prospect of retirement. Connelly also finds the time to examine LA's ever-changing social and economic identity, and muse on the nature (or nurture) of evil.

It only enhances Connelly's reputation as a chronicler of modern-day LA and a member of a vibrant contemporary literary scene that includes James Ellroy, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, James Lee Burke and David Simon. They are, Connelly agrees, members of a golden generation of writers who employ popular forms to explore grand social and political narratives. "If you want to learn about contemporary America, you should read crime novels," he says. "We're all in some way disciples of Raymond Chandler. There's a duty to do more than deliver a fancy puzzle. If you write about LA, say something about LA."

I ask whether crime novels can change a city as well as describe it, but Connelly is sceptical: "If you start thinking about that, you are on thin ice." But he does note that LA's former chief of police Bill Bratton (the so-called "supercop" consulted by David Cameron after the UK riots) read his novels to learn about the city before starting the job.

Apparently, rank and file police officers also appreciate Connelly. They love Harry Bosch for his honesty, integrity and impatience with bureaucracy. Connelly enjoys close relationships with several homicide detectives, something that was impossible during his days on the LA Times. "As a journalist, I built some trust with detectives, but there was always an acknowledgment that my job was not to support them. I used to say: 'You can trust me, I will always write the truth. But if you end up on the Rodney King tape, I will write that.' Now they tell me about their mistakes. They would never do that when I was a reporter."

While Connelly views this access to the realities of law enforcement as a privilege, he clearly finds the resulting insights sobering. "What scares me about these conversations with homicide detectives is [how they reveal] the randomness of the world. The randomness of how people end up dead; the randomness of how criminals are often caught."

What interests him today is how policemen cope with this knowledge. "At the core of my writing, I ask how people keep themselves safe when they witness the worst crimes imaginable?"

Exactly how much more Bosch can take remains unclear. 2012 will be his 20th year as a crime solver. Connelly is celebrating, if that is the word, by exploring another 20th anniversary: of the LA riots, which Connelly witnessed first-hand. "It was an amazingly bad experience to see the city come apart like that. You hope LA would have learned from its mistakes, but I see the city as more divisive now, socially and economically. It makes you think it could happen again."

Connelly sounds more optimistic about the future of Harry Bosch. The only sticking point he foresees is his own creativity. "I don't know if I'm losing my powers, but I worry about it. I know how hard it is to sustain a character over time. But no one's going to tell me when the series is over. He's at the level where someone somewhere is going to publish it, so I'm going to be the one who has to stop writing about Harry Bosch."

Of course, if the going ever does get tough, he could hand a book to Barack Obama – another US President with a taste for crime fiction. The question these days is, which man would benefit the most?

The Drop, By Michael Connelly (Orion £18.99)

'As Bosch stared down at the unending river of metal and glass, Pell's anguish clawed at him. He had robbed Pell of his one chance at redemption, the moment where he would make up for all the damage inflicted on him, and to his way of thinking, the damage he had inflicted. Bosch didn't necessarily agree with it but he understood it. Everybody is looking for redemption. For something.'

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links