Michael Connolly & How a Meaningful Theme Creates Drama

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Written by Scott McConnell.

Michael Connolly is one of the best mystery-crime writers today, many would say the best. His novels are best sellers and have been adapted for film and television.) His series Bosch, currently plays on SBS.

A former Los Angeles Times police reporter, Michael Connolly has created two major heroes, each with their own series of novels set in Los Angeles. One series features LAPD detective Hieronymus Bosch, the other defence attorney Mickey Haller. What helps make both crime series emotionally evocative is Connolly’s use of a theme that focuses on the psychology of his protagonists. Connolly poignantly dramatizes how this detective and lawyer cope with the ugly world in which they work: LA’s dark side of murderers, rapists, serial killers, and psychopaths, as well as the opportunistic and morally vacuous civil servants who lead the City of Angels.

More specifically, what lifts Connolly’s gripping mysteries to a higher level of drama is the nature of his heroes’ internal conflict. In multiple of the Bosch novels, for example, this morally driven LAPD detective struggles against being overwhelmed by a bitter, malevolent view of life. That is, of falling prey to the belief that the world is an ugly place dominated by human evil. By adding this philosophical-psychological problem for his protagonist to overcome, Connolly adds greatly to the drama of his Bosch stories. The addition of this theme gives depth and meaning to the story’s characters and events and significantly enhances the readers’ enjoyment of the novels.

Let’s consider just one way that Bosch’s psychological conflict enhances his adventures. When Bosch fights and defeats evil (criminals and bureaucrats!) his victories buttress his benevolent view of the world, that justice and the good can succeed. But this work-related success is not enough for Bosch to retain a positive view of life against his daily contact with malice and evil. Bosch also fights to sustain a benevolent feeling about life by searching for and experiencing goodness and innocence in the larger world. Bosch primarily achieves this through romantic relationships and most importantly through loving his daughter Maddie. How Bosch uses this filial relationship as an antidote against malevolence is especially evident in The Shallows, where Bosch hunts a former FBI profiler who has become a serial killer. Much of the novel’s action takes place near Las Vegas, where Bosch’s toddler daughter lives with the detective’s estranged partner. After making the harrowing discovery of a tortured victim in the serial killer’s lair, Bosch rushes back to Vegas. In a revealing scene, the detective visits Maddie and sits beside her while she sleeps. In the darkness, Bosch stares at little Maddie then holds her hand, as if drawing innocence from her, as if refuelling his soul to protect it against the devils that can infest the world.

Bosch’s struggle between a malevolent and a benevolent world view clutches you in suspense: Will Bosch succumb to bitterness or will he hold onto innocence and love? Typically, at the end of a Bosch novel, detective Harry Bosch has vanquished evil in the world and often found joy or solace in the arms of a lover or through interactions with his daughter. Connolly is not the first detective writer to have his hero suffer the acidic effects of too close a rubbing against evil. Connolly, however, makes the fight against a malevolent view of life an essential part of his hero’s soul and actions in the world. 

Michael Connolly’s novels are riveting crime stories. They are suspenseful, explode with clever twists, and exhibit brilliant, resourceful and moral heroes. But it is Connolly’s focus on the psychology of his heroes that adds a psychologically insightful and emotionally touching dimension to his stories. When we enter the dark world that Connolly creates, this writer-come-moralist grips our hands as he leads us past the evil he depicts. But with his other hand, Connolly places our palm on the cheek of an innocent child. Connolly condemns evil and reminds us of the potential innocence and beauty of our fellow human beings. That is writing to profoundly enjoy and which we writers can learn from.

Scott McConnell is writer/script consultant in Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia. His reviews, film/play analysis and articles on writing have been published in America, Australia, and England.