Michael Connelly has been described as "the world's best cop novelist". Bill Clinton is a fan. Mick Jagger, too. Clint Eastwood so admires the writer's work that he directed - and starred in - 2002's woeful film Blood Work. The movie was, as Connelly admits, duff - but useful: "It made people read the books."
His Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch novels have sold seven million copies and brought him a vast presidential pile in Florida, a big boat and wildly expensive teeth. And Connelly is not above flaunting such trophies. During the course of our interview, he pops in and out of his study, a phone pressed to each ear and a pager chirruping on his belt, allowing me plenty of time to gaze through the window at the private dock out front, to admire his dazzling array of electronics, and to scan the bookshelf overflowing with translations of his works (German, French, Italian), the incongruous John Lennon spectacles lying on his desk, and the Bar Hemingway ashtray.
Connelly is busy because, not content with American domination, he is about to set out on a world tour - London, Scotland, Hong Kong, Australia - to nip at the heels of Ian Rankin, a great rival, who once said that, after his own Rebus, Bosch was his favourite detective.
"Ian's a friend,'' Connelly says. "But he's quite obscure here in America. I'm not obscure over there. I've had No 1 bestsellers in Australia, Ireland, France, Italy." He counts them off on his fingers. "I've even had a Sunday Times number one bestseller. Los Angeles has a built-in intrigue that makes people in Japan want to read about it, whereas Ian is writing about Scotland. He's had a higher mountain to climb."
Connelly and Rankin are not dissimilar. Both frustrated journalists, both loners, they share a love-hate relationship with fame. Connelly, in particular, is sweetly thrilled to have met Clint Eastwood. "To meet him, to talk with him, to have a three-hour meeting with him..." He's so star-struck he can't finish the sentence.
His fictional detective Bosch is, indeed, a hero in the Eastwood mould: a military veteran, an orphan, very nearly an alcoholic - impossible yet brilliant. "Yes, I know," Connelly says, "all the clichés of the genre. But I grew up reading them, loving them. So why not write what I like reading?"
However, the writer bears no physical resemblance to his gumshoe creation - he is thick-set, with a reddish beard and an unlined brow. He speaks deliberately, as if dictating. One journalist described his eyes as being too close together - and he keeps mentioning this crossly. In own-brand jeans, greying sneakers and a lime-green sweatshirt, he looks like a clarinet teacher. Only his blindingly white smile hints at his bank balance. He looks as if he's been up all night brushing his teeth. But even in this he's been crashingly sensible: "I just had the front four capped. They're the only ones that show."
When it comes to his books, though, he is painstaking. Connelly crunches detail, nails character and spins gripping, credible plots. The Black Echo won the Edgar award in 1992 for the best first novel by a mystery writer. Lost Light was on the New York Times bestseller list for six weeks. The latest Bosch mystery, The Narrows, will surely continue the run.
And still the 47-year-old remains a restless perfectionist. "Writing is like a shark," he says: "You've got to keep moving." He is moved most by fear - financial fear. As the son of a peripatetic builder and one of five children, he grew up forever worrying about money.
"My dad was an extrovert, into the grand gesture," he explains. "He took risks. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn't. When I was 13, we had to load up the car with belongings and go to a flea market just so that we could pay the mortgage. My younger siblings were blissfully unaware, but I was the oldest boy. I am very driven to provide." Even now he treats himself to a new laptop computer for every book he writes, "because I can".
Connelly was born in Pennsylvania, and the family moved to Florida when he was 12 years old. A terrible student, he attended four schools in five years - "I went to Catholic schools and I hated that, the strictness. I could never fit in" - and it was assumed that he would become a builder like his father. He duly enrolled at the University of Florida to major in building construction sciences. His course began, but he soon packed it in, after having seen The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman's film adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel.
"My mother had always loved crime fiction - PD James, mostly - but it was only when I discovered Chandler that I knew for sure. I told my father I was going to be a novelist. He said to me, 'I just don't want you to end up waiting tables.' So we hatched the idea of my going into journalism."
It was through journalism that he met his half-Scottish wife Linda, who is two years younger. "We both took a college class called Ethics of Journalism. I'd had a cycling accident and broken four fingers, both wrists and an elbow. I was in a cast like this..." He strikes a ghastly pose. "She took pity on me."
The couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in April. It's easy to see how the relationship works; Linda is the machine behind her husband's success. She runs the house and his business, and fends off unwelcome requests. She even files his tax returns in 22 countries. "That stuff can really bog you down," Connelly says. "I'm coddled. All I have to do is write."
It took Connelly seven years of aborted attempts before he finished The Black Echo in June 1990. "Journalism helped me a lot. It got me into the police world and prepared me for the unforeseen. But my progress in newspapers was very slow. Increasingly, I could only find fulfilment at night when I was writing fiction. And I used that frustration. If everything had been going great at work, if I'd been on the magic carpet, I doubt I'd have started writing books."
The couple have one child, a seven-year-old daughter, Callie. "We started late. I was selfish. When I was ready, we didn't have time to have a large family."
He sounds - and is - ruthless. But is he difficult to live with? "No, I don't think so," he snorts. "How can it be difficult living here?" He gestures through the window at the view out across the bay. "Most children never see their dad, because he has to work so many hours to make enough money for them. That's one of the joys of what I do. I'm always here when my daughter gets home."
Few authors happily disclose the autobiographical elements they use to shape their work, but Connelly is refreshingly transparent. He uses everything. "It all comes out of my life," he says. "Bosch is my point man, the guy in the jungle. I use him to exorcise my demons. Angels Flight, for example, where he investigates the murder of a little girl. I wrote that book when my daughter was two years old. The nightmares of parenting were just awakening in me. I wrote a book about the worst thing that could happen to a parent. I thought it would help, but it didn't. That fear can never go away."
Perhaps the simpler truth is that Connelly has to use everything because he doesn't have that much to use. He has few friends, his parents are dead and his brothers and sisters are scattered across the country, from Seattle to Boston. "We're not that close."
Three years ago, he moved back to Florida from Los Angeles, so that Callie could spend more time with his mother, who died in July 2003. And, as he admits with perverse pride, he knew nobody else in Tampa. He did meet up there with one old friend from college, a lawyer - but only because he plans to write a book about a criminal defence attorney.
Has he seen him again? He shrugs: "No. I inhabit a weird world, but you've got to be an introvert to want to do this. I'm very happy with my existence." He tries again. "Do I have an emptiness or a secret wound that forces me to be this way? No, this is just the way I am. It's not a pose."
Now that he lives in Florida, he spends much of his time flying back to Los Angeles, sniffing out new locations for his books. He always travels alone - just him, a hire car, a hotel room and a digital camera. Even his one hobby - sea fishing - is solitary.
Connelly's father died of cancer on 6 August 1991, at the age of 59. His grandfather died of a stroke some 30 years earlier - on 6 August, and aged 59. "I know that on 6 August in 12 years' time, I'm not going to leave the house."
Certainly, there is a remoteness about Connelly. He talks of playing with his daughter, of "clowning around". But, though there are happy shouts echoing around the house all afternoon, only his boxer bitch dares to pad into the office.
His own father was similarly distant. "When he was diagnosed with cancer, we had a family reunion in Washington DC. And it was there that my agent got hold of me and said he'd sold The Black Echo. My father was going through radiation, chemotherapy and all that stuff, and in the afternoons he would go down to the hospital dining room to eat ice cream to cool down his throat. That's where I told him. It was a great moment for me. But he said he couldn't read my book. He just said, 'I know you're going to do well, but I can't read it.'" Connelly, catching my eye for the first time, adds softly: "I understood."
Mortality clearly looms large in Connelly's world view. But what of Detective Bosch. Will he live for ever? "No, no one does," the writer says firmly. "Harry's on real time. I hope I know when it's over."
Connelly shows me to the door, gazes at his wife and daughter playing together on the front lawn, and turns away.
'The Narrows' is published by Orion (£14.99)Reuse content