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Michael Connelly explains 'The Black Box,' Tampa author's 25th book

In The Black Box, author Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch investigating a murder that took place 20 years ago during the Los Angeles riots.
Published Dec. 5, 2012

Michael Connelly may live in Tampa, but the center of his fictional world is Los Angeles.

Connelly, a bestselling — to the tune of 45 million books — author, returns to L.A. with The Black Box, his 25th novel and the 18th about Harry Bosch, a hard-boiled homicide detective in the City of Angels.

Connelly will be talking about and signing The Black Box in Tampa on Wednesday. He talked about the book and his other recent pursuits from the road during his book tour, taking a call in Traverse City, Mich.: "I'm seeing snow."

Why did you decide to build the plot of The Black Box around a cold-case murder that happened during the 1992 Los Angeles riots?

I usually don't think about how many books I've written. But when I realized this would be my 25th book, and my 20th year of writing them, I thought, oh my gosh, I never thought that would happen.

So I wanted to write a story that spanned 20 years. When you start looking back at 1992, it's hard to get past the riots. They were the single biggest event that year, at least in Los Angeles. I was a reporter for 14 years (at that time he worked for the Los Angeles Times). Out of everything I covered, that was the deepest experience I ever had, the biggest thing I was ever involved in.

So it was an opportunity to write about the riots and Harry Bosch, and to bring it forward into the present and maybe exorcise a few of the demons I'd been carrying around.

You wrote an essay recently describing your experience during the riot, when you were assigned to the location where Rodney King had been beaten by police officers. An angry crowd had gathered at news of the verdict, and you found yourself surrounded until a black man, probably from the neighborhood, helped you get to your car. It sounds like a harrowing experience.

I hesitate to call it harrowing, because other people had much more harrowing experiences. But I was scared. There were very few times as a reporter that I was scared.

The L.A. Times had a plan, but the paper, and the police, everybody's assumption was the verdict would be guilty. So I was shocked, everybody was shocked. Aside from that moment of fear, there was this ongoing feeling of guilt — I for one, but also the collective media and the powers that be in L.A. — that we weren't aware of this powder keg we were all sitting on. A lot of us didn't understand what was happening in our city.

In June, you announced that a television series based on the Bosch books was in development. Any progress on that front?

I want to put all of this under the Hollywood canopy of "ifs." But it's moving pretty quickly. We have a production company, Fuse, which does Burn Notice, and we have a show runner, Eric Overmyer, who's done The Wire, Treme and Homicide: Life on the Street, just this great pedigree. We have a script that just recently was delivered to several cable entities. Not a lot gets done in Hollywood between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I think in a few months we should know something.

Once we find our partners, we'll move on to the very delicate task of casting — especially Harry. But ask me that question again. By the time we talk I might have a different answer.

You just did a USO tour in the Middle East with several other authors, Operation Thriller III. What was that like?

It was a great experience. I keep my head down and write books, but I jumped at the chance to do this. We went to eight military bases in four countries in the Middle East. I talked to all kinds of people, from privates first class to generals. The main thing was to say "Thank you for your service." But I got more out of it than they did. I saw the dedication, the professionalism, the camaraderie.

Were the people you met different from those you meet at ordinary book signings?

Except for the uniforms and the guns, no. Readers are readers. . . . These were all support bases. I didn't go to Afghanistan. I think it's like police work: a lot of boredom and a lot of high-energy work. . . . But there's a lot of reading going on.

You're helping to produce a documentary about one of Harry Bosch's favorite jazz musicians, Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Project. How did you get involved?

I knew him, and I always admired Frank's story. He overcame tremendous odds. He spent 30 years in prison, for drugs and other crimes, then came out and produced some beautiful music. After he passed away (in 2007), I just thought his story should be told. My French translator is married to an American woman who is a documentary filmmaker, N.C. Heikin. I told her about Frank.

Frank spent a lot of time in San Quentin, and a warden there in the 1960s was aware of several talented jazz musicians in the population — Frank, Art Pepper. So they formed the San Quentin All-Stars. Part of N.C.'s idea about the film was to have it lead up to a tribute concert at San Quentin. It wasn't easy, but we finally got permission and did the concert on the stage Frank performed on. We got some very talented people, like Ron Carter. It was quite a moving experience.

The film is wrapped. By January or February, we'll know what we have. We might have a DVD extra of just the concert.

Are you working on your 26th book?

I'm half or a third of the way into it. I think it's a Lincoln Lawyer book. (Connelly's 2005 novel The Lincoln Lawyer, about Bosch's half-brother Mickey Haller, was made into a 2011 film starring Matthew McConaughey.) But Harry Bosch has a pretty big part, and so does his daughter, Madeleine. The working title is The Gods of Guilt. So I'm plugging away at that.

You've dropped some hints that Maddie might follow in her father's footsteps. Is that likely to happen, or is it too early to know?

My answer is yes to both questions. She's 16, so she can't be a cop for five or six years. It's too early to decide yet.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.

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