The best fictional detectives are mysteries unto themselves: hard-bitten, world-weary, troubled souls who keep the dark, uncomfortable corners of their past clearly marked off-limits by yellow police tape.
So it comes as a surprise when the moodiest of the lot, L.A. Homicide Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, suddenly opens up as never before in Lost Light, case number nine in Michael Connelly's streetwise nocturne on the seamy side of Hollywood.
Here, Bosch narrates his own story for the first time. Connelly's only previous foray into first-person narrative appeared in The Poet (1996), a non-Bosch novel and longstanding favorite with fans.
"It was actually pretty hard at first—more than at first, for a good long period," Connelly admits. "I had written eight novels that had Bosch in them, all in third person, so you kind of get into a routine of how to project to the reader what he's thinking and what he's working on.
"When you go into first person, all bets are off. You find yourself feeling like you're cheating the reader if you hold anything back. I think that's one of the things that was good about the old Harry; I was able to hold things back and kind of spring them on the reader when I wanted to."
In Lost Light, we pick up the ever-brooding Bosch nine months after he has turned in his badge (at the end of last year's bestseller, City of Bones). He has kicked his two-pack-a-day habit, bought a used Mercedes SUV and signed on for sax lessons to fill the void left by the job. Too restless to retire, he decides to poke into an unsolved murder case. The trail soon lands him at the center of yet another hornet's nest of lies and cover-ups, this one involving not only the FBI but the new Homeland Security Department, as well.
Lost Light is Connelly's shortest and lightest Bosch. Not coincidentally, it is also his first since moving his wife and young daughter from Los Angeles to Tampa two years ago. It was a homecoming for Connelly, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and worked as a teen at Bahia Mar, the marina where John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee moored his beloved houseboat, the Busted Flush.
Connelly admits the change of scenery worked wonders.
"I have found that moving away has changed my way of looking at L.A., and that has kind of re-invigorated me," he says.
So it was naturally time to shake things up a bit for Bosch as well.
"As a writer, you've got to keep moving or you get stale. Even the best series seem to have their down moments or stale moments. I'm just searching for ways to avoid that. I don't know if this book does that, but it helped re-energize me to take Harry in a new direction, both in his fictional life and in my writing life, by working in first person with him. All of that added up to make this one of the better writing periods I have had, and as a believer that what happens in the writing process happens in the reading process, I hope that this new direction will be a successful one—for him and me."
A lot has happened in our world since we last saw Bosch. It was perhaps inevitable that 9/11 and its repercussions would figure into Lost Light.
"It goes along with my continuing belief that contemporary crime novels are much more immediate in terms of their reflection of society than any other form of fiction. That's one of the reasons that I'm drawn to them and like them," says Connelly. "Like everyone, I think the world has changed since Sept. 11th. It's changed for the better in some ways and for the worse in others, and it's a worthy thing to look at in fiction."
In Lost Light, Bosch confronts REACT (for Rapid Response Enforcement and Counter Terrorism), a "by-any-means" special unit of the FBI whose unchecked powers are frightening even to its own agents.
Connelly admits he's as perplexed as the next guy by the new landscape of post-9/11 law enforcement.
"It's kind of changed the way we do business," he says. "Hopefully I have drawn forth both sides, and have Harry Bosch stuck in the middle. That's how I feel, too: stuck in the middle. On some days I think, what are we doing? Why have we gone so extreme in changing the rules? Then on other days I think, we've got to get out there and do more. I've got a six-year-old daughter, and on those days I'm all for throwing every rule to the wind and doing what we have to do. I have the same kind of dilemma everybody has."
Lost Light ends on an unusually happy note for this generally somber series. Appropriately, Connelly chose to mark the occasion by pressing at his own expense a CD of cool jazz classics entitled "Dark Sacred Night: The Music of Harry Bosch," to give to devoted fans at book signings. It's the music that Connelly listens to when he crafts his Bosch novels and the ones Harry often slides into the CD player.
"Music is pretty important in the book," Connelly says. "This isn't the music of my choice in my life; I probably know more about rock and roll and blues than I do about jazz. But it seems appropriate for him. He's a loner and this kind of music plays into that."
Connelly plans to let Harry tell it again for one more outing as a PI. After that, he's thinking of luring him out of retirement to work with the L.A. District Attorney's office on a special project tracking down unsolved "cold cases."
But rest assured that, unlike his creator, Bosch will remain firmly entrenched in the City of Angels, though an occasional side trip isn't out of the question.
"For one thing, I'm still fascinated with L.A. to a higher degree than I'm fascinated by my new surroundings in Florida," he says. "On a commercial level, it could possibly be detrimental to my career to start writing about South Tampa or Fort Lauderdale. My books have often had the characters go elsewhere. And if Harry does go down the road of cold cases, they can lead anywhere."
Jay Lee MacDonald is a writer based in Florida.