The plots thicken

06 December 2020 - 11:03

Published in the Sunday Times (06/12/2020)

To sound somewhat prosaic, there are delightful frissons of magic when like author meets like author. You can feel it at book launches and festivals. And this week we have pure magic on the page: the legendary Deon Meyer interviews the illustrious Michael Connelly. They've quite a lot in common. They both have bestselling crime series with beloved characters: Meyer's books feature the much-loved Cape Town cop Benny Griessel; Connelly features Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, a detective in Los Angeles. Connelly also has a few other series - one with Harry Bosch's paternal brother, Mickey Haller, a defence attorney who was introduced to the world in 2005 in The Lincoln Lawyer, adapted into the blockbuster film of the same name starring Matthew McConaughey. Another series features Renée Ballard, an LA police detective who works the night shift, called "the late show," out of the Hollywood station. Connelly's latest thriller stars Haller in the just-released The Law of Innocence (Orion, R355) and Meyer's new novel Donkerdrif (Human & Rousseau, R320) features Griessel and his partner Vaughn Cupido. The English version will be out next year. Meanwhile, if you have not read Meyer's The Last Hunt (Hodder & Stoughton, R310), put it in your shopping basket this holiday season.

DEON MEYER: I've enjoyed The Law of Innocence tremendously, thanks for another excellent read. By my count, novel number 35 (not counting the non-fiction and e-books), 28 years of writing, and still at the top of your game. Does it become easier? Do you think experience makes a big difference?

MICHAEL CONNELLY: First off, Deon, I love your books and thank you for taking time away from writing to do this. Like any pursuit in life, the more you do it, the better you are at at least some aspects of it. So my confidence is light years stronger than it was 25 years ago but other things become more difficult. Finding roads not yet travelled is one. And the bar I hold myself to keeps rising. With this new book it took me almost six years to come up with a way to tell a Lincoln Lawyer story without feeling it was a repetitive courtroom drama.

DM: Your work ethic is something I've always marvelled at. Producing a novel of this high standard every year is impressive enough. But I know you've executive-produced the Bosch TV series and two film documentaries, often do book tours and signings (pre-Covid!), lend a helping hand to up-and-coming authors, and love to spend time with your family, too. Where and how do you find the time? Please share your work schedule with us.

MC: Well, book writing is the priority always, but I love exploring all ways of telling a story. So I pitch in on the TV show and I have a true crime podcast called Murder Book and I look at these as ancillary ways of storytelling. I like doing all of this but I preserve my book-writing time generally every morning. I like to get up while it's still dark, when it seems like the city is still asleep, and start writing. I try to do this seven days a week and rarely miss a day.

DM: Speaking of Covid-19, it seems that you wrote The Law of Innocence during the early stages of the pandemic. How much did the virus influence your writing and schedule?

MC: It had a big influence because originally I wrote the book to take place in March and April, but when we got there the pandemic was in full swing and the courthouses were closed down. So here I was with a book that was not accurate to the real world. So I pushed everything back in time and the book essentially takes place from November to the end of February. That allowed me to seed the story with references to the coming pandemic. The idea was that there would be a sense of confusion and impending crisis and this sort of ran side by side with Mickey's story and the impending crisis of a trial for his future.

DM: Will we see more of Covid-19 in a future novel?

MC: I think I have to include it if I am going to do what I have been doing for 28 years: reflecting off of society. My next book will be a Ballard and Bosch story and I am researching now how Ballard would conduct an interview in the pandemic as well as in this period of police scrutiny and enmity currently front and centre in my country following the police killing of George Floyd and several other police shootings. I think it's important to incorporate these things into the book to reflect reality but also because these are challenges that Ballard and Bosch have to overcome.

DM: The Law of Innocence's protagonist is defence attorney Mickey Haller again, one of my favourite fiction characters. We've seen journalist Jack McEvoy (Fair Warning, 2020) and Harry Bosch (The Night Fire, 2019) recently. How do you decide which characters in the Connelly universe get a turn next?

MC: It's an all seat-of-the-pants instinct. I essentially decide who I want to spend 10 months writing about. Though Mickey has shown up in recent years in Bosch books, there had not been a true Lincoln Lawyer novel - Mickey telling the story - in seven years and I just sort of missed his voice and thought it was time.

DM: Something I've wanted to ask you for some time now: With Titus Welliver's strong portrayal of Bosch, and Matthew McConaughey's iconic Haller, do you see their faces when you write about these characters now? Have their substantial talents had any influence on the characters?

MC: What is weird is that I hear their voices more than I see their faces. I think because I had written about Bosch and imagined him for 20 years before Titus came along, his image has not invaded my imagination. I was less entrenched with Haller when Matthew McConaughey came along but still, it's the voice. I think when I am writing these characters I am hearing them tell the story more than seeing them play out the scenes.

DM: I've seen reports that the upcoming seventh season of Bosch will be the last. Please tell me it's not true.

MC: Well, I guess all good things come to an end. It was decided that this should be the last season and it has been very helpful to know it's the end so that we can gear this season toward an ending for the whole series. But having said that, there are a lot of people out there who want more and they have let Amazon know this. With the pandemic impacting production, we have made it clear that we are ready to go and could keep this show going. So we will see.

DM: Early days, I know, but when I see McConaughey is going to do a book event with you, I can't help wondering if another Haller movie might be in the pipeline? By the way, McConaughey has just published his memoir Greenlights. Have you read it?

MC: Greenlights is a good book. I first thought it was something he did during the pandemic because Hollywood was shut down, but quickly could tell this was a long-planned book. He has kept journals through much of his life and he calls on them and other inspirations to put this book together. I enjoyed it. Lincoln Lawyer is even mentioned in it, but I would say that him reprising the role is a long shot. I do, however, think Mickey is headed toward TV and hopefully there will be something to announce soon.

DM: The Law of Innocence is set in LA, like most of your work. You live in Florida, you've worked in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale, but your love for the City of Angels remains. What is it about LA that fascinates you so much?

MC: I am more in LA than anywhere else but still retain my connection to Florida, where I grew up. My fascination with LA comes from a lot of things. Books and movies are important, but also living out here since the '80s and seeing the place change, moving forward two steps and then one step back, it really inspires me. There is a lore to the place that grabs me. It is also a place that draws so many of its inhabitants with the promise that dreams can be fulfilled. I am one of the lucky ones in that regard, but not everybody sees their dream come true and the haves and have nots are very clearly seen here. There is a lot of friction on the line between the two and from that comes some good crime fiction.

DM: I can imagine that a legal thriller might demand much more research than a crime novel, especially one where a criminal lawyer has to defend himself in a murder case. Please tell us how you prepare for the courtroom.

MC: You are absolutely right. The Haller books involve the most research and by research I mean staying in constant contact with a handful of lawyers I use to help get ideas and then execute them in story with a high degree of accuracy. The last thing you want is a bunch of lawyers chasing you on the internet telling you you got it all wrong.

DM: I know a few of your novels have been inspired by real events. Where did the spark for The Law of Innocence come from?

MC: At the heart of this book is a government rip-off scam that occurred in real life a few years ago. When I read about it I immediately thought I could use it in a story. The other aspect is that there is the saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln that a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client. I wanted to take that adage and turn it upside down, create a story where Mickey is faced with the highest stakes of his career and decides nobody could handle the case better than himself.

DM: Harry Bosch is one of Haller's investigators in The Law of Innocence. Is it fun to see him through Mickey's eyes?

MC: It is always fun to take another angle on a character you are familiar with as a writer or reader. We have seen Mickey through Bosch's eyes in The Night Fire and other books. So this time I wanted Mickey's take on Bosch.

DM: Haller's regular investigator is Dennis "Cisco" Wojciechowski, another of my favourites (and not only because he's a biker). You also thank Dennis Wojciechowski in your acknowledgements at the end of The Law of Innocence. Please tell us about the real-life Dennis. (And send my regards to Rick Jackson!)

MC: Dennis is a biker turned investigator in real life. I met him about 25 years ago at a bookstore in Milwaukee (home of Harley-Davidson) and I thought it was an interesting life path. So when I was writing the second Lincoln Lawyer book I realised that Mickey needed an investigator and I went to Dennis and asked if he was OK with me taking his name and his story and transplanting it to Los Angeles. He agreed but only if I promised to let him read the books before they are published so he could safeguard his namesake character and make sure he doesn't cross any paths that Dennis would not cross himself.

DM: What's next in terms of books and television for you? And can a crime fiction author ever retire?

MC: I think an author can definitely retire - or at least slow down. I hope to do one or the other in the next two years. But I think I will always be writing a book. It may just take me longer than usual. As I said before, next up is a Ballard and Bosch novel I am just starting to write. No title yet, that will come as the story takes shape. But that is for next year and then I have no idea what I will be doing next.