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Festival of Reading: Michael Connelly looks to the past in 'Wrong Side of Goodbye,' and to the future

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading presents more than 50 authors, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Michael Connelly will appear in conversation with Times book editor Colette Bancroft at 11 a.m. in the Student Center Ballroom. Find more information here

Michael Connelly's new novel is in many ways a turn back to the past, for him and for his series character Harry Bosch.

"He's retired. I turned 60 this year," Connelly says. "It felt like time to look back at what formed me as a writer."

Connelly sets his internationally bestselling books in Los Angeles but lives in Tampa. Fresh off a flight from California a week ago, he talked about his characters and craft over burgers (pickles, onions and lots of ketchup for him) at El Cap in St. Petersburg.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Connelly's 29th novel, finds Bosch working as a private investigator after three decades in the Los Angeles Police Department. That job, the book's title and other elements are all nods to crime fiction icon Raymond Chandler, one of Connelly's biggest influences.

Chandler's seven novels, first published between 1939 and 1958, include The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye and are narrated by the wisecracking, deeply honorable private eye Philip Marlowe. Connelly first read them while he was a student at the University of Florida.

"It was these private eye novels that I wanted to write," Connelly says. But before he established himself as a novelist, he was a journalist, covering the crime beat for many years for the Los Angeles Times.

"So I had all this experience on the police beat," he says, that made it logical to create a character who was a homicide detective rather than a private operative.

One of the biggest differences between this book and the first 18 Bosch novels, he says, was "not having a murder as, what do they call it in novel-writing school, the inciting moment." Instead of focusing on a homicide, Bosch searches for the possible heirs of a dying billionaire. "I had to find other ways to create momentum" without a murder to raise the stakes, Connelly says.

Bosch has another job in The Wrong Side of Goodbye: working as a volunteer reserve officer for the small police force of San Fernando, an "island city" within Los Angeles. That plot line wasn't in his original plan, Connelly says. "It was serendipity."

It came about because of Bosch, the Amazon television series based on the books with Titus Welliver playing the detective. Two seasons have already been released, filming for the third (out in 2017) was recently completed — and renewal for a fourth was just announced.

Connelly, who is a writer and executive producer for the series and has been very hands-on in its creation and production, says, "It was great. That was the first time we'd heard before we wrapped, so we were all together when we got the news."

The idea for Bosch to volunteer in San Fernando came during filming a Season 2 episode with a complex scene "with seven different people shooting at each other." It took three days to film at a shopping center in San Fernando, and the town's off-duty officers served as security. Connelly says one of them said to him, " 'I see Harry's retiring. We could sure use him here,' as if he were a real person." In the new novel, Bosch pursues a serial rapist attacking women in San Fernando, allowing Connelly to design what he calls "a double helix plot," as he has in many other books.

This novel also takes readers back into Bosch's past, especially his military service in the Vietnam War. "I really wanted to have this book go through Vietnam," Connelly says, so Bosch's search for his client's heirs leads him to delve into records of another man's Vietnam service, arousing some of the detective's own harrowing memories.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye also features another of Connelly's series characters, lawyer Mickey Haller, who is Bosch's half-brother. (The first book about Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer, became a 2011 movie starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role.) Bosch and Haller have appeared in each other's books before, sometimes briefly, sometimes, as in this one, in more expansive roles.

With those two book series plus a television show already on his plate, Connelly has another idea stirring.

"I just started a new book," he says, not a Bosch, not a Haller. "I'm not sure if I'll end up writing it now, but I'll write it eventually.

"Beginning a book is always the hardest thing for me, and this time I'm going to double down. It's a new character, and that takes a lot of focus, setting everything up, with all the other things I have going on."

The new character is a female detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. Connelly writes female characters often and well; FBI agent Rachel Walling has been featured in several of his books.

The new character is based on real-life LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts, who, Connelly says, "has helped me with the books and been a consultant on the show." Like Bosch in the last few novels, Roberts has worked cold cases, including the infamous Black Dahlia murder.

But Bosch fans needn't worry. He'll be back, on the page and on screen.

"I love seeing Harry piecing things together, like in this book when he's looking at the (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) Wall and he figures out that a bunch of names with the same date means a helicopter crash," Connelly says.

"I get this little thrill in the back of my head when that happens. I try to write like I read, to get that thrill."

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Festival of Reading: Michael Connelly looks to the past in 'Wrong Side of Goodbye,' and to the future 11/03/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 5:03pm]
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