Michael Connelly Explains His New Crime Novel Hero

The prolific author tells LAMag why beloved detective Harry Bosch is hanging out with a younger woman, Renée Ballard
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BACK WHEN HE was a college student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Michael Connelly discovered the works of quintessential L.A. crime novelist Raymond Chandler. He tore through every book he could find, devouring every sentence, hoping that by immersing himself in Chandler’s dark, murderous world, he could someday learn to write his own crime novels.

For a young, aspiring author, it wasn’t much of a plan. But, boy, did it work.

Connelly’s 37th novel, Desert Star, set in the L.A. underworld, features a character who’s been with the 66-year-old author from the very start—former homicide detective turned private eye Harry Bosch—as well as a relative newcomer: Renée Ballard, a hotheaded, tough-as-nails young LAPD detective who began popping up in Connelly’s fiction about four years ago. Put in charge of the newly revived Open-Unsolved Unit, which deals with apparently hopeless cases, she enlists Bosch’s help in solving the murder of 16-year-old Sarah Pearlman, sister of the city council member who helped resuscitate the cold-case unit.

(PHOTO : COURTESY LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY

Meanwhile, Bosch procures Ballard’s help in his continuing hunt for his own pet cold case, the slaying of an entire family by a murderer who remains at large.

Bosch is somewhat unique as a crime novel hero in that he grows older from book to book. When he first appeared, in 1992’s Edgar Award-winning novel The Black Echo, he was just 42 years old. In this latest, he’s 72.

Though Bosch has reached retirement age, Connelly hasn’t been ready to put the character out to pasture. This is why Ballard—based on real-life L.A. detective Mitzi Roberts, who’s been advising Connelly on his books for years—started appearing in his storylines.

“I needed to pair Bosch with someone who understands he still has skills and that he can go on,” says Connelly. “Ballard became a way of getting to that.” Connelly adds that he’s in constant contact with Roberts whenever he writes about the character. “I didn’t want to get into the situation where I imagine what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated bureaucracy,” he says. (Connelly began his career as a newspaper reporter in Florida, where he was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1985 crash of Delta Flight 191, and, later, worked at the Los Angeles Times.)

I needed to pair Bosch with someone who understands he still has skills.

The focus of the 2017 stand-alone novel The Late Show, Ballard is not nearly as prominent as Bosch in Connelly’s universe, but that could change when the time finally does come for the aging detective to hang up his gun and move to Boca Raton—although it’s difficult to imagine Bosch completely fading from the crime scene. The 24 books in which he’s the main character have sold tens of millions of copies over the last 30 years, attracting fans like Bill Clinton (who, while president, was photographed holding a copy of Connelly’s third book, The Concrete Blonde, a priceless bit of accidental promotion that boosted the author’s early career).

Amazon’s original TV series based on the Bosch books (with Titus Welliver in the titular role) lasted seven seasons, until 2021, and a new series, Bosch: Legacy, about Bosch’s silver years, launched last May. There’s even been some loose talk about Bosch someday crossing paths on screen, as he has from time to time in print, with Mickey Haller, the car-bound counselor at law who’s been the hero of six of Connelly’s other crime novels (and who has his own series on Netflix, starring Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

But Connelly isn’t holding his breath. “You’re talking about Netflix and Amazon coming together and shaking hands and saying, ‘Let’s do this,’ ” he says. “It seems very unlikely to me. But it’s too bad. It would be nice.”

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This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Los Angeles magazine