A look back…February 12, 2001 with Michael Connelly

I will be revisiting my history every now and then, courtesy of the Internet Archive, AKA the Wayback Machine. This is a post from February 12, 2001. Enjoy!

What’s New: Survived my first holiday season as a manager.  It was exhilarating, frustrating (at times), hectic, fun and over in a mad minute…or so it seemed.  No post holiday blues for this bitch though.  Not with fabulous new books out like La Cucina by Lily Prior!  I am enamored of this book and determined to make sure everyone I come in contact with hears about it.

I was very excited to receive an email from Time Warner books.  They are providing me with some additional content, including this fascinating article by Michael Connelly on my new Author Author page.  We are talking about possibly running some sort of contest, giving readers of this site the opportunity to win free books!

Looking into the Abyss
by Michael Connelly

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Michael Connelly, 2001, Circle Books, Sarasota FL

A Darkness More Than Night is a title I have wanted to use for many years but waited until I had the right story. The title comes from Raymond Chandler, writer of several classic detective novels set in Los Angeles. Once while writing about what made his early hardboiled stories so popular he stated that among other things it was because in these stories the “streets were alive with a darkness that was more than night.” I read that a long time ago and it always stuck with me. It occurred to me while writing my tenth book that this was the story for which that title was made.

In this book my plan was to make the story an exploration of Harry Bosch’s character and the cost of his going into the darkness. By darkness, I mean the underworld of crime and moral corruption where he toils as a cop. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that when you look into the darkness of the abyss that the abyss looks into you. Probably no other line or thought more inspires or informs my work. By virtue of his job as a police detective Harry Bosch has spent most of his life looking into the abyss, into the darkness of the human soul. What has this cost him? What did going into the darkness do to him? These questions became the basis of this book. To me this book is a study of the price that is paid by those in our society who must go into the darkness to right wrongs and solve the crimes of the morally corrupt.

At one point a character in the book takes a basic law of physics-for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction-and adopts it to human or spiritual physics, concluding that you can’t go into the darkness without changing it and yourself. If that conclusion is correct, then Harry Bosch’s years of carrying a badge have had an unseen cost attached. Exactly what that is forms the exploration of A Darkness More Than Night.

***

Because all of the prior books about Harry Bosch have been constructed so that the world is seen through his eyes, my goal with this book was to change that a bit. There are many sections of the book where this is still the case. But the majority of the book is seen through another character’s eyes-Terry McCaleb, who I brought back from the novel Blood Work. In Darkness we get a view of Bosch and his world through McCaleb’s eyes. This allowed me to reveal things about him that would have been awkward or even impossible in the prior Bosch books. I think it allows the reader a different view of Harry. My hope is that the reader will be surprised by what they see from this new angle.

The other key part of the book, for me, at least, was the use of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Harry’s real name is Hieronymus Bosch. He is named for the 15th Century painter whose work is replete with depictions of the wages of sin. When I first created Harry Bosch and gave him the painter’s name, I did it with the idea that the name was metaphor. Bosch the painter created strange landscapes where good and bad actions are played out in chaotic scenes. Five centuries later Bosch the detective moves across a chaotic city where good and bad actions are played out before his-and therefore, the readers’-eyes. I wanted with this book to explore this correlation and therefore I made the paintings a pivotal part of the story.

A strange coincidence occurred to me while I was researching this part of the book. I was very familiar with the works of the painter Hieronymus Bosch. I had a collection of books featuring his works and writings about him. I had written several of my Harry Bosch novels in an office where prints of the paintings hung as well. But I was unfamiliar with the workings of an art museum, which would be important to describe in the novel. A friend set me up with a curator at the newly built Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Sitting atop a mountain like a foreboding post-modern castle, the museum itself was a perfect location to use in a crime novel. I told the curator my plan for the book was to have my character McCaleb come to the museum seeking an expert on the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. He would then be shown a Bosch painting and the fictional art expert would comment that the night sky in the painting showed “a darkness more than night,” thereby giving the title of the book life and metaphor all at once.

The catch was I knew that the Getty did not have a Bosch painting in its collection and that I would be creating fiction about a real Los Angeles place. Not to worry, the curator told me. He escorted me to the Getty’s restoration laboratory where coincidentally a Bosch expert was restoring a Bosch painting sent to the Getty from a museum in Brazil. I watched the restoration process for a long time and in the night sky of the painting I saw a darkness that was certainly more than night. It was a strange coincidence, a case of art imitating life imitating art. Or vice versa.

***

I think that what is also explored in the book is the difference in styles between Bosch and McCaleb. I wanted to show how clearly different these two men are. Both are very good investigators and both are bonded by an earlier case that is referenced in the book. But they operate on different levels of motivation. They are not fueled by the same pump.

Bosch has deep emotional conflicts from which he draws his fire. In a way, he is making up for wrongs done to him when he rights wrongs as a homicide detective. In a way, he is an avenging angel, as McCaleb himself notes in the book.

But McCaleb is different. He is less instinctual and more intellectual about putting the puzzles of crimes together. He is not an avenger. I think he is some one who is motivated by common decency and a desire to see that no bad deed go unpunished. He carries inside a transplanted heart, and with it the knowledge that someone had to die in order for him to live. It has given him a view of the world, and his place in it, unique from Bosch.

I think putting these two different men and different views of the world and different styles together makes for interesting conflict and story. This was not to be a “Butch and Sundance” story. I felt certain as I wrote this book that these two men could not share the same pages easily, that when Terry McCaleb looked into the darkness of Harry Bosch’s eyes that he would see something that haunted him. Perhaps, the cost of looking so long into the abyss.

–Michael Connelly, Los Angeles, January 2, 2001.  Printed with permission of www.twbookmark.com

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