Crime/thriller Blog by Ian McConaghy (July 2023)

A Shot in the dark

I’ve tried to remember the exact moment when I started to read crime novels, but without success. What I do recall is watching TV adaptations of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle books, featuring Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot; exotic characters in period dress; super-smart detectives, out-witting criminals and leaving the police clueless – a formula in the English detective story tradition, which hasn’t changed much over the years.

What really caught my attention back then was imported American TV shows and big budget Hollywood movies. TV Programmes like 77 Sunset Strip, set in Los Angeles, and films starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

In Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock Holmes befriended royalty, injected cocaine and played violin badly. He mixed with aristocracy and flexed his super-intelligence, while Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe rubbed a sweaty shoulder with real people, drank bourbon at all hours of the day and talked smart.

I was as hollow and empty as the space between stars

Chandler, who wrote that line, was born in America, but moved to London, aged seven, after his parents separated. He went back to the States in 1912, taking a job as an accountant before serving in the first world war, getting wounded in France and returning to LA in 1919.

He’d hoped to rekindle his writing ambitions but instead worked for an Oil Company. It was an unhappy experience and led to bouts of depression, womanising and heavy drinking – and he got fired.

‘The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back’.

Fortunately for us, he started to write short stories for pulp fiction magazines, which seeded ideas for his first novel, The Big Sleep. It was eventually published in 1939 and it featured his LA private investigator, Philip Marlowe.

Raymond Chandler wasn’t a fan of the English detective novel. He considered it lacked realism; fooling readers with improbable clues, which only the amateur sleuth could solve. You might not enjoy the dark underbelly Chandler reveals, but you never doubt his characters are real and breathing – well, up until they are shot dead. 

Once asked what he did if he got stuck with a plot development, he replied.

When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand

Chandler is still a great read and beautifully written, but times have changed; readers have even greater expectations. Stories are more layered and nuanced, often with several plot lines running through the book, and we experience the inner turmoil which drives characters to behave the way they do.

I’ve enjoyed reading the American writer Michael Connelly for many years and it was a delight to see the recent adaptation of his books on Amazon Prime: Bosch.

Connelly didn’t start out to be a writer – until he got poor exam results, he planned to follow his developer father into building construction. Seeking solace in a movie, he watched a 1973 version of Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Long Goodbye,’ (1953) with Elliott Gould playing Philip Marlowe.

That experience inspired Connelly to switch degrees. He later qualified in journalism and eventually landed a job with the Los Angeles Times in 1987, as a crime beat writer, feeding his fascination with the subject and finding inspiration for his fictional stories.

The spirit of Chandler continued to have an impact on Connelly. When he moved to LA, he tracked down the apartment Chandler had chosen for his fictional hero, Marlowe. It wasn’t at first available, but after waiting a decade, he rented it and used it as a place to write. 

This was where he created his main character, detective Bosch, and his first novel, published in 1992. 

The Black Echo

The story opens with LAPD homicide detective, Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch, getting a call-out to a body found in a drainage tunnel. Harry recognises the man and doesn’t believe he’d take his own life. He’d let the man down while serving in Vietnam, but he won’t do it again.

It was followed by ‘The Black Ice’ (1993), ‘The Concrete Blonde’ (1994) and ‘The Last Coyote’ (1995) before he quit his job as a reporter to write full time.

He has since written over thirty novels, including ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’, a spin-off story about Harry’s half-brother, Mickey Haller, which was made into a film starring Matthew McConaughey.

A Futuristic thriller

While writing this piece, I can see clearly the tracks that have guided me towards my own writing and my first book; Neuworld, a futuristic thriller, with an LA cop Jack Kaminski.

Stephen King said, ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’

I’ve read books for most of my life and been writing seriously for about eight years. I still love and read books, but like everyone else I also experience stories through numerous other platforms, including TV, cinema and the internet. 

It’s important we remember that these amazing visualisations start out with an idea, from someone’s imagination, probably a writer, and certainly the idea would be developed by a writer.

Let’s keep reading alive by supporting and recognising the writer’s contribution all around us and buy more books.

A futuristic thriller: Neuworld by Ian McConaghy: available from Amazon, as e-book or hard copy.