I love the crime fiction of Michael Connelly. And his favourite writer also happens to be a favourite of mine: Raymond Chandler.
Both Connelly and Chandler set their novels in Los Angeles, where they moved as adults.
Chandler (1888-1959) was born in Chicago. He was educated at Dulwich College in London like PG Wodehouse. Like Wodehouse, he also worked in Hollywood.
Connelly worked for newspapers in Florida before moving to Los Angeles where he spent some years with the Los Angeles Times.
He was asked by The Daily Beast: “I understand that you’re a big Raymond Chandler fan. Which book is your favorite and why?”
Connelly replied: “It’s The Little Sister. What has inspired me for going on 40 years is chapter 13. In that chapter Philip Marlowe, frustrated by the events of the day and the case he’s on, takes a ride around Los Angeles. He ruminates a bit on what is going on in his case, but the chapter has little to do with plot, and everything to do with the interplay of character and place. The book was published in 1949, and his descriptions of LA are still accurate. He’s able to cut away to the basic things about LA. At the time I read it, I’d never been in Los Angeles, but I instinctively knew that he had grabbed the character of place and connected it to the character of his protagonist. Wonderful. Years later I did make it to LA, and I started writing novels, and I would religiously re-read chapter 13, and I still do, to this day, before I start writing a novel about LA. I have to read chapter 13.”
The Little Sister, published in 1949, is not the most acclaimed Chandler novel. The Big Sleep is his best known novel, followed possibly by The Long Goodbye.
But as a reviewer wrote in The Pioneer: “The Little Sister is not the best of Chandler’s novels, but it is remarkable in its introspection: a quality that was sparse, if not lacking, in his previous novels. The 13th chapter is a heartbreaking sequence of Marlowe’s dissatisfaction and depression, with the repetition of the phrase “You’re not human tonight” demonstrating his frustration: so similar to Chandler’s own, with the culture of L.A. and the Hollywood of the ’40s, with its gambling dens, mobsters, pornography rings, blackmailers and extortionists, 114 murders a year and only dirty cops to solve them.”
Chapter 13 of The Little Sister, which Connelly says he reads every time he starts writing a novel about LA, catches Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s private investigator hero, at a low point. Driving around alone in Los Angeles, he describes what he sees and his own feelings:
Fast boys in stripped-down Fords shot in and out of the traffic streams, missing fenders by a sixteenth of an inch, but somehow always missing them. Tired men in dusty coupes and sedans winced and tightened their grip on the wheel and ploughed on north and west towards home and dinner, an evening with the sports page, the blatting of the radio, the whining of their spoiled children and the gabble of their silly wives. I drove on past the gaudy neons and the false fronts behind them, the sleazy hamburger joints that look like palaces under the colors, the circular drive-ins as gay as circuses with the chipper hard-eyed carhops, the briliiant counters, and the sweaty greasy kitchens that would have poisoned a toad…
Well, what is my business? Do I know? Did I ever know? Let’s not go into that. You’re not human tonight, Marlowe. Maybe I never was or ever will be. Maybe I’m an ectoplasm with a private license. Maybe we all get like this in the cold half-lit world where always the wrong thing happens and never the right.
Malibu. More movie stars. More pink and blue bathtubs. More tufted beds. More Chanel No. 5. More Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs. More wind-blown hair and sunglasses and attitudes and pseudo-refined voices and waterfront morals. Now, wait a minute. Lots of nice people work in pictures. You’ve got the wrong attitude, Marlowe. You’re not human tonight.
The Little Sister is Chandler’s first foray into Hollywood, says the book blurb on Amazon which adds: “A movie starlet with a gangster boyfriend and a pair of siblings with a shared secret lure Marlowe into the less than glamorous and more than a little dangerous world of Hollywood fame.”
Read The Little Sister now.
Michael Connelly was also asked by The Daily Beast: “For a reader new to your work, which of your novels would you recommend they begin with, and why?”
He replied: “I firmly believe that you get better at whatever you do in life, the more you do it. I feel that I’m a better writer now than I was when the first Harry Bosch novel came out, so I’m not going to send anyone back to the beginning. I think a good book where you get a good sense of who this character is, his relentlessness. Echo Park. It’s a more current book, and I think it would be a good introduction to all of my work. But if you’re into legal thrillers, the novel called The Lincoln Lawyer, introduces this new character. But my latest, Gods of Guilt, is the first time that I feel it’s really a character-driven story, as opposed to a trial-driven or plot-driven story. So I think this is the best of my Lincoln Lawyer books.”
“Do you have a personal favorite among your books?” he was asked.
Connelly replied: “My favourite is The Last Coyote. I’m not saying that’s the best book I’ve written, I hope I haven’t written my best book yet, but that one was the first book I wrote as a full-time author, with my full-time focus. I have a nostalgic feeling about it. I think the story-telling was much improved by the fact that I didn’t have to keep putting it down to go and work on a newspaper every day. The full-time focus paid dividends in that book. But when I was 19, in college, I said that I want to be a crime novelist some day. And here was the book where that became what I was doing. Not a part-time job, not something I was doing at night. I had made it to my goal. It was a great year—I have so many memories, working at home, in an office I set up, being undisturbed in my focus. Sorry my answers are all so long!”
The Last Coyote was published in 1995 after three other Connelly novels: The Black Echo (1992), The Black Ice (1993) and The Concrete Blonde (1994). All featured the police detective Harry Bosch.
Connelly started writing about the lawyer Mickey Haller much later. The first book in that series, The Lincoln Lawyer, appeared in 2005.