'The Wrong Side of Goodbye,' A Conversation with Michael Connelly

11/07/2016 07:07 am ET
Photo: Mark DeLong

Michael Connelly, the author of twenty-eight previous novels, including his internationally bestselling Harry Bosch and the Lincoln Lawyer series, started his writing career as a newspaper reporter. His award-winning books have sold more than sixty million copies worldwide.

In The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch, retired from the LAPD, is now a private investigator who does some part-time work for the San Fernando Police Department. He’s contacted by Whitney Vance, a reclusive billionaire, who’s near the end of his life. The old man has one regret: as a young man, he had a love affair with a Mexican girl who after becoming pregnant by Vance, disappeared. Vance wants to know whether he has an heir, and this dying magnate hires Bosch to find out. An enormous fortune is at stake and the mission could be perilous. At the same time, Bosch is involved in tracking a serial rapist who may be the most dangerous foe he’s ever faced.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is an intriguing title. It reminds me of the noir novels of the 1940s. Tell us about the title.

You're right. I set out writing this book with a couple of goals in mind.

The first was to open the story without there having been a murder committed for Harry to solve.

And as for the title, I wanted to pay homage to my literary elders. I wrote the novel as a bit of a throwback to the private eye novels from the forties and fifties. These were the stories that made me want to become a writer when I read them years ago.

The title could just as easily been affixed to a Raymond Chandler novel.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye tells two stories simultaneously, and as you mentioned, neither involves a murder. What made you decide to write the novel this way?

This time, I wanted to do something different.

When Harry was an LAPD homicide detective, the story had to begin with a murder. Now that he's retired, I wanted to give myself a writing challenge and see if I could tell a compelling story with somewhat of a more mundane opening premise. Could I still create a narrative with momentum and high stakes, but without a corpse; and would it give the readers the kind of satisfaction they derived from my previous books?

All of us writers must stretch ourselves to be better storytellers; that's what I challenged myself to do with this book

I know there was a real-life serendipitous event that brought Harry to the San Fernando P.D. as a part-time volunteer. Tell us about that.

This book was already in progress and it was a throwback to the kind of private eye novel I’ve always loved. As I was writing it, I realized this would be a somewhat shorter book than my usual target of about one-hundred thousand words. While I was struggling with the prospect of writing a shorter novel, I met a guy who was a police officer with the San Fernando Police Department. It’s a tiny two-square mile enclave encircled by Los Angeles. He’d read my last book and knew Harry Bosch was retired. He told me ‘We have a great volunteer department in the San Fernando P.D., so if Harry wants to keep his hand in something like cold cases, he can work part time for San Fernando.’ So, out of the blue, this materialized as a way to blend this new development in Harry’s life with what I was writing, and keep the book at the usual word-count I have for my books.

I found Harry’s search for a potential heir to the Vance fortune intriguing. Did you do much research to get that aspect of the novel down so perfectly?

I’ve always had real-life LAPD Homicide detectives helping me. One of them is much like Harry Bosch: he’s retired and now has a PI license. He was the backbone of the research. I could call him up and get accurate information about the next step in this kind of investigation. The word ‘research’ always sounds like heavy lifting, but for me, I shoot a text or send an email or make a quick phone call and have someone look into whatever I need to nail down while I keep writing. So for me, research is not really a chore. I pass that chore onto other people. [Laughter].

One of the great things about The Wrong Side of Goodbye is that Harry and Mickey Haller are working together. Will that continue into the future?

I think so. With Harry now doing a lot of private work, the field is wide open for him. I’m not complaining, but for the first eighteen books he was a homicide detective. Now, I can start a story anywhere. I think pretty often he’ll have to reach out for help, and one of the first guys he’ll call upon will be Mickey. So, you’ll see these guys working together—even if a book is Bosch-centric, Mickey will show up, and vice versa.

It seems Harry’s and Mickey’s relationship has been changing. Is that true?

Yes. They’ve been showing up in each other’s books for about ten years. I think some of the earlier tension between them was a result of Bosch being in law enforcement and Haller being a defense attorney. They now have a measure of each other and know each other’s strengths and where each can help the other.

Harry’s relationship with his daughter Maddie is evolving. Tell us more.

You’re a writer, so you know…you throw out a net for all kinds of things but you also mine your own life and experiences.

Harry, Micky and I all have daughters the same age. [Laughter] Obviously, it’s by design. I take a lot of my own experiences as a father, and the relationship with my daughter, and they become part of these characters’ relationships with their daughters. Lots of it narrows down to a texting relationship. There’s a lot of love between the lines of the texts, as well as some discomfort. To me, the moments between Bosch and his daughter are not only the fun part of the book, but those moments and the feelings they engender are what stabilizes Harry. Maddie keeps him grounded, just as in my own life, my relationship with my daughter does the same thing.

These are universal experiences. And that’s where I connect with readers. After all, most of us have never ventured into a homicide investigation, but when a reader finds a character has a basic human emotion similar to the reader’s, the protagonist and reader form a deeper connection. The reader ends up subconsciously nodding, and once that happens, you’ve succeeded in what you’re trying to do as a storyteller.

Since Bosch has been on Amazon TV, do fans tell you that when reading a Harry Bosch novel, they envision Titus Welliver as Harry?

It’s interesting because Titus Welliver in real life and on the show, is about twelve or fifteen years younger than the Harry Bosch about whom I’m currently writing. So, for me, there’s still a distinct separation. As I’m writing, I don’t see Titus. Then, when I watch the show, I totally see Titus as Harry.

When I write about Mickey Haller, I see Matthew McConaughey. It has nothing to do with the acting. It’s a function of the fact that when McConaughey appeared in The Lincoln Lawyer, he was the same age as Mickey was in the book. So, perhaps by osmosis, the image filtered into my creative thinking. I assume it will happen with Titus, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Also, I’ve been writing about Harry Bosh for more than twenty years before Titus was ever in the role, so my image of Bosch has been deeply cemented in my head. Titus has a hammer and chisel and is knocking down that image.

Speaking of Bosch on TV, I understand there’s a third season coming, and even a fourth season in the works.

We’ve almost completed filming the third season which will be out in February or March. Amazon is very confident about the show and gave us the fourth season about a month ago. That’s an important development because before this, after each season, we had to close the studio, then when the show was renewed, we’d hire actors and in a sense, would have to re-tool. Now, we can just proceed.

What’s coming next from Michael Connelly?

When we’ve talked in the past, I always knew what I would do next. I usually start writing a new book on December first of each year, so I have nearly a month to decide what to do. I have an idea for a Bosch book and another for a Mickey Haller book, but I have this growing notion tugging at me and telling me to do something new. I don’t want to keep writing only about Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller and would like to come up with something new before my storytelling days are over. So, I might be putting a new character on the page.

Congratulations on writing The Wrong Side of Goodbye, another intriguing Harry Bosch novel opening new doors and pathways for this enduringly fascinating character.

Mark Rubinstein’s latest book is Bedlam’s Door: True Tales of Madness and Hope, a medical/psychiatric memoir.

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