Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Evening With Michael Connelly and Martin Cruz Smith

I’ve mentioned before that Michael Connelly was one of my favorite authors, but I have never heard him speak in public so when I saw an event advertised at the New York Public Library billed as Masters of the mystery genre, bestselling-authors Michael Connelly and Martin Cruz Smith will reveal how they've kept readers at the edge of their seats for decades,” it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

The event format was simple: the two authors, on stage, having a conversation with each other. No moderator to direct the conversation and no questions from the audience to interrupt the flow. It offered a fascinating glimpse into their writing lives.

I had read ‘Gorky Park’ by Martin Cruz Smith when it was first published. It received so much acclaim that it was definitely the book on everyone’s must-read list at the time. While I liked the story, I found the numerous difficult-to-remember character names (the novel is set in Russia) distracted from my enjoyment. I never looked for a sequel, so was surprised to learn that Cruz Smith has kept his character, Arkady Renko, going for over thirty years, in part by refusing to age his protagonist. This, of course, contrasts sharply with Michael Connelly’s detective, Harry Bosch, whose ageing is something of a concern to fans of the books who realize there will come a time (in the very near future) when he will finally have to retire.

Connelly expressed some regret that when he started writing the Bosch novels he had no idea of how long the series would continue and therefore did not take the ageing factor into account, but also stressed that the ageing process does allow the writer to expand the character’s world in ways which are not possible in an ageless character. Certainly, for me, the introduction of Harry’s daughter and the issues he’s had to face as she grows up has added an extra dimension to his character which makes him even more realistic. 

What I found most interesting about the conversation was when they discussed the emotional aspects of their characters. Connelly’s latest novel (published last week), “The Gods of Guilt” is the next in the Mikey Haller series and has the lawyer having to deal with the consequences of earlier actions. Cruz Smith even uses the term ‘emotional’ to describe his work.

While emotion in romance is expected, many mysteries and thrillers give only the barest nod to the emotions behind the protagonist’s actions in the race to solve the crime or save the nation etc., but I would argue that if there is no emotional growth in a series character then there will quickly come a point where one book in the series is very much like the next and readers will get bored.

Maybe this concentration on the emotional is how Connelly and Cruz Smith have managed to keep their audiences on the edge of their seats for all these years. Certainly I am always as eager to read how Harry Bosch will deal with what life throws at him in the next book as much as how he will solve the crime. And after listening to Martin Cruz Smith, I will definitely be looking at his backlist.

What do you think? Do you like fictional detectives/lawyers to have a conscience or is it more important that they get the bad guy or save the day rather than suffer from any guilt or doubt?

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