Real People Inhabit Michael Connelly's Fictional L.A. Best-selling mystery novelist Michael Connelly roams the streets of Los Angeles in search of a good story. He doesn't have to look far to find real-life inspiration for his Harry Bosch detective series among the city's people and places.
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Real People Inhabit Michael Connelly's Fictional L.A.

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Real People Inhabit Michael Connelly's Fictional L.A.

Real People Inhabit Michael Connelly's Fictional L.A.

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Michael Connelly has written a string of bestsellers about the mean streets of Los Angeles. The hero of those novels - if you could call them that - is a tough, battered homicide detective named Harry Bosch. We're concluding our series Crime in the City with a visit to the author.

Michael Connelly now lives in Florida, though he spends a lot of time in L.A. And that's where NPR's Mandalit del Barco joined him to tour the City of Angels as Harry Bosch might see it.

(Soundbite of traffic)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Michael Connelly has no need for the GPS device on the SUV he's driving from Venice Beach to Downtown. Though he splits his time between L.A. and Tampa, he knows these streets and freeways well. The windshield is his lens on Los Angeles.

Mr. MICHAEL CONNELLY (Novelist): To use a cop term, it's a suitcase city. It's because it's a transient place, people come from all over to be here. And there's a element of agitation: Am I safe? And the car is the safety zone.

DEL BARCO: One of our stops is a restaurant on Franklin Avenue - Bird's, a favorite spot for L.A. cops. Connelly got to know many of them in the 1980s and '90s as a crime reporter for the L.A. Times.

Mr. CONNELLY: First day when I'm meeting my editor, I'm going to be on the police beat and all that stuff. And he says you're now in a city that's a sunny place for shady people, and in that line between the sun and the shade there are good stories. So go out and get them.

DEL BARCO: During his day job, Connelly always took mental notes about the location and characters he would fictionalize. Eighteen novels later, he's still exploring the world of the LAPD.

(Soundbite of car doors closing)

DEL BARCO: In Hollywood, Connelly joins up with a buddy, patrol Sergeant Bob McDonald, who appears occasionally in his novels. They take a spin down the famous Sunset Boulevard in a black-and-white squad car. And as they near the 101 Freeway onramp, they're flagged down by a frantic man who's just been mugged.

Unidentified Man #1: I came up (unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: He went down (unintelligible).

DEL BARCO: The victim is an immigrant from Budapest. His face is bloodied. His eyeglasses are busted.

Unidentified Man #2: What was he wearing? Do you remember?

Unidentified Man #1: No. He did it so quickly. I don't know.

DEL BARCO: Connelly watches the cops who arrive on the scene to take the man's report and the paramedics who bandage his head.

Mr. CONNELLY: You know, the take on this crime is $30. And just think what the impact is on his life both physically, mentally, and then financially.

DEL BARCO: It's not as grim as the crimes Connelly's main character usually investigates. That would be detective Hieronymus Bosch - Harry Bosch.

Mr. CONNELLY: He's an outsider with an insider's job.

DEL BARCO: Connelly says he based him on Raymond Chandler's character Phillip Marlowe, a 1940s private eye. Harry Bosch is a relentless, modern-day homicide detective with the LAPD.

Mr. CONNELLY: You might not like his tactics. You might not even like his personality. There might be a lot you don't like about him. But you would respect how he works to the point that if it was your loved one who was on the slab down at the morgue, the first name that would come to mind in terms of the investigator would be Harry Bosch.

DEL BARCO: Bosch works in the homicide division at the Hollywood station, which has its own sidewalk stars and movie posters in the lobby. Today Connelly pays a visit and meets the new captain, Thomas Brascia.

Captain THOMAS BRASCIA (Los Angeles Police Department): I know exactly who you are. I think I've read every novel you've written.

Mr. CONNELLY: Really?

Cap. BRASCIA: Harry Bosch? I'm reading "The Overlook" right now.

Mr. CONNELLY: Well, let me ask you a question. Why do you read that stuff? You do this.

Capt. BRASCIA: Oh, because I'm an ex-homicide cop. I'm living vicariously now through Harry Bosch. And that definitely is my passion. That was my love -homicide. You know, being a homicide detective.

DEL BARCO: Captain Brascia says Connelly's descriptions of the vibrant precinct and seedy neighborhoods, the at-times thrilling and tedious police work are dead-on.

Capt. BRASCIA: The descriptions are accurate. You can tell that Michael's been there. He's done his homework.

DEL BARCO: Connelly gets the same reaction at the Criminal Courts Building downtown. A few floors up from where music producer Phil Spector is being tried, Connelly sits in on a random case. The accused wears an orange prison jumpsuit, writing notes to her lawyer. Connelly leans in to whisper the irony.

Mr. CONNELLY: The defendant in this case is actually a defense attorney. It's just like happenstance that I'm writing about a defense attorney and here's one being sent to prison.

DEL BARCO: When the judge, Judy Champagne, calls for a break, she asks Connelly to step into her chambers.

Judge JUDY CHAMPAGNE (Superior Court, Los Angeles): Ah, life as a very successful mystery writer.

DEL BARCO: Connelly hand-delivers a manuscript of his current thriller.

Mr. CONNELLY: Once again, I want Judge Champagne to make a cameo.

Judge CHAMPAGNE: Oh, good.

Mr. CONNELLY: In the book I'm writing and...

DEL BARCO: He asks her to be brutally honest if he got the legal terms right. And he makes sure he can again base the fictional judge on her. Champagne seems flattered and impressed.

Judge CHAMPAGNE: Michael really, really works hard to get it accurate, which all the judges and the cops and the lawyers, who are great fans, love about it, because it is real. And the characters, they're flawed. They're just the way we are. I mean, Harry's been my favorite, but he's flawed. And there are some times I think, Harry, don't do that, you know? This is going to get you in trouble.

Mr. CONNELLY: Her late husband, who was a friend of mine, a lot of him is in Harry. So I think maybe that's what you connect to.

Judge CHAMPAGNE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. CONNELLY: Judge and her husband, when she was a prosecutor, he was the cop and he brought in cases to her to prosecute. So what was the saying - I know I used it in the book.

Judge CHAMPAGNE: I hook them and you cook them or something.

Mr. CONNELLY: Yeah. Yeah. Roy would say I hook them and she cooks them.

(Soundbite of music)

DEL BARCO: The maverick Harry Bosch and his creator both solve cases while on the road listening to jazz. And they're contemplative about the city that inspires them.

Mr. CONNELLY: The randomness of this place, the idea that anything can happen both good and bad; and it can happen pretty quickly. People can become overnight famous in this place for the good things they've done, maybe the creative things they've done, and oftentimes it's for the horrible things they've done.

DEL BARCO: Listening to Bosch's theme song, Connelly winds along Mulholland Drive and up to where Harry Bosch's house was red-tagged after an earthquake. From this vantage point high in the Hollywood Hills, Connelly looks out over the canyon to the endless ribbon of red lights on the freeway.

Mr. CONNELLY: It's a city that's, you know, beautiful and damaged, that has so much that appears to be going for it, but it falls short in so many ways. And it's just like a person, you know, a flawed character.

DEL BARCO: This is Michael Connelly's Los Angeles: beautiful and damaged, with moments of hidden grace.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Michael Connelly's tour of L.A. continues online. You can explore that city and others in our series about crime writers and their haunts at

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve's back on Monday. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm John Ydstie.

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