Michael Connelly is keeping an eye on the 101 freeway from his home in Los Angeles.
“I have the same view as Harry Bosch,” says the bestselling crime fiction author of his best-known fictional character. “Not the house in the TV show, with that glittering expanse. Harry Bosch’s house in the books. That’s the view I have, closer to the freeway. So watching the freeway is my way of taking the temperature of Los Angeles. For a while it was empty, but now there are more cars on the road.”
Connelly, 63, splits his time between homes in L.A. and Tampa, but he hasn’t been back to Florida since March. He talked by phone about his new book, Fair Warning, his 35th novel and his third about reporter Jack McEvoy. (Connelly was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and other papers before he switched to writing fiction full time.)
Like all of Connelly’s novels, Fair Warning is a satisfying adrenalin rush. After police question Jack about the bizarre murder of a woman he had a one-night stand with a year before, he’s drawn into a case involving the shady side of commercial DNA testing, a sinister dark website and a serial killer who takes out his victims with a method called “internal decapitation.” As in the previous novels about him, McEvoy teams up with his lost love, the fierce former FBI agent Rachel Walling.
How are you doing sheltering in place?
I had just come back on March 8 from Tampa, and a few days later we went to sheltering in place. It’s kind of embarrassing, because a lot of people are dealing with really tough stuff. But writers shelter in place anyway. It’s what I’ve done for most of my adult life, until the Bosch TV show kind of pulled me out of that routine.
(His wife) Linda is here. My daughter had gone to a college near Los Angeles. She graduated and got a job, then she was furloughed, so she came home to stay with us. It’s like a throwback to seven years ago, when there was no Bosch TV show and my daughter lived with us. I feel like the luckiest guy around. I sort of have survivor’s guilt.
Your new novel, Fair Warning, comes out May 26. It brings back Jack McEvoy, the reporter who was the main character in The Poet (1996) and The Scarecrow (2009). What was the starting point for this book?
There were two kind of inspiration points or starting points for this novel. One, a while back I read just a short story, probably in your paper, about the Pentagon telling military personnel not to provide their DNA to any commercial DNA analysis or heritage firms, because of the security risk of your DNA being out there. In the future that might be how you’re identified, instead of your fingerprints or whatever. That made me delve into the whole issue of DNA privacy.
The other point is that I’ve always used Jack sporadically for my kind of state of the union reports on media. This time it was what’s been happening in our country the last few years with the erosion of trust in the media. I never want to tell people what to think in my books. I don’t want to be didactic. I want to reflect what’s going on in the world. Jack is a tried and true journalist, doing what journalists do: finding the hidden truth and reporting it to the community.
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In the first two books, Jack worked for newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News and the Los Angeles Times. This time he’s an investigative reporter for an online consumer watchdog publication called FairWarning. It’s a real site (fairwarning.org), and its real-life executive editor is a character in the novel. Why did you choose that setting?
I’m actually on the board of directors. The founding father, executive editor, the jack of all trades at FairWarning is Myron Levin. I worked with him for years at the L.A. Times, and I also played poker at his house every Thursday for years. He took a buyout from the Times and used it to start FairWarning.
He was a consumer reporter, and a good one. There is this story about him getting sued by a guy who claimed (Levin’s) story about him was so wrong and caused him so much stress that he was “bleeding from the seat.”
That story is in the novel, except the language is a little more explicit.
Yeah, maybe that was my real inspiration. I had to write the whole book around that anecdote.
FairWarning is also a symptom of what’s going on with media, especially newspapers. A lot of what they’ve done so well for their communities is now being done by these nonprofit news sites.
Myron read the manuscript and came back with notes. He would say that I exaggerate his role of always trying to find donors, and I do, but it’s true. That’s where we’re at now.
Amazon TV announced recently that there would be a seventh season for Bosch, but that would be the last in the series. Where does it stand?
Like everyone here, we’re waiting for the world to return to normal, whatever that is. The writing is going forward. Our production usually begins in August, or the last Friday in July. This year it probably won’t start until September, and if we can start then, of course, we’ll observe all the protocols of safety. If we can start then I don’t think we’ll miss the April window (for the series to drop).
Will the pandemic have any effect on the story?
Before anything happened, we had started writing the show. It’s set starting on New Year’s Eve 2019 into 2020, so that’s pre-pandemic. But I’ve been doing research and there was a first report (about the virus) on Jan. 7. So we’ll be dropping in hints, the idea that there’s a coming pandemic.
How do you feel about the series ending?
I feel good and bad about it. It’s become a family, because we shoot in L.A. People in the industry don’t necessarily love going somewhere else to work. So it’s been pretty stable, I’d say only about 10 percent turnover. It’s a good family on both sides of the camera. So losing that is going to be bittersweet.
On a creative level I’m all right with it. It’s good knowing we could write to an ending. I never thought it would last so long, so seven seasons with a completeness is a good thing.
I’m not finished with Harry Bosch as a writer, so it will be a little weird to end it on a TV level. I think we’ll hear from Harry Bosch next year in a book.
Your next book, coming in November, is another in the Lincoln Lawyer series about Mickey Haller. What’s the status of the TV series based on that character, run by David E. Kelley and announced as a CBS show?
It got whacked. That’s directly related to the virus. We were two days away from starting to film (when CBS announced it was dropping the show). We had a cast, sets, scripts, everything.
It was quite a shock, and it was a pretty expensive decision, as well as disappointing. But we’re actively hoping to find a new home for the show. It’s ready to go. It’s a good package. It has built-in IP, as they say in Hollywood — intellectual property, with the books, the Matthew McConaughey movie (The Lincoln Lawyer). The virus is going to have an effect, and when things do start up, other providers of TV content will have a lot of holes they need to fill.
I’m still writing the book. It’s called The Law of Innocence. I don’t know the end to this one. My books are all set in the year I write them. This is about a murder case that comes to trial in April. Well, in April there were no trials. I had to figure out what to do. For three or four weeks, I didn’t write anything. That’s the longest I’ve gone without writing since I left the University of Florida (in 1980). It was just this malaise. Then I moved the story back to January and February, and I’m seeding in early reports of the pandemic. But I lost a month, a bad thing to do in a two-book year.
Any plans for a second season of your Murder Book podcast?
That’s one of the things the virus has not impacted. For the first season I had to go to a recording studio for each episode, and I wanted to get rid of that time suck. So in a closet in my garage here I put in a soundproof recording studio. I don’t have to leave the house or put on a mask or anything.
I have six episodes done, so it will be out this summer. This one is called “Killer on the Road.” It’s about (L.A. Police Department Detective) Mitzi Roberts, who is the inspiration for (his fictional character) Renée Ballard, about one of her cases. She caught this guy in 2012 for three murders in L.A.; it took her three years.
The guy is Sam Little. Now he’s known as the most prolific serial killer ever. There have been TV shows, 60 Minutes covered him. But they never mentioned who caught him. So the podcast is about Mitzi’s experiences tracking him, catching him, and the challenge of convicting him.
It’s a good story. This guy obviously hated women — he killed 93 of them. So it’s kind of cool that the prosecutor, Mitzi, some of the witnesses, including one of the survivors who testified and helped put him in prison, are women. It’s a real story of strong women.
It sounds like you’re staying busy.
I’m a little stir crazy. I’d really like to get back to Tampa sometime soon. I heard Bern’s is opening.
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 416 pages, $29