Michael Connelly got his first taste of crime when he was 16 years old. On the way home from his job as a hotel dishwasher in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he watched as a bearded man stopped to hide something in a bush. Connelly went to investigate and discovered a gun wrapped in a shirt. He trailed the man to a biker bar and told the police what he’d seen. But when he was brought in to identify the suspect—who was wanted for armed robbery—from a lineup of bikers pulled from the bar, Connelly told the cops they had the wrong guy. The detectives wouldn’t listen, though—they thought he was just a scared kid.
A few years later, Connelly was an underclassman at the University of Florida at Gainesville on track to follow his father’s footsteps into the building construction trade. But a trip to the student union on Dollar Movie Night changed everything. After seeing Robert Altman’s adaptation of The Long Goodbye, Connelly spent two weeks reading all of Chandler’s novels featuring private eye Philip Marlowe. He soon told his parents that he wanted to write crime fiction for a living. To his surprise, they encouraged him. Connelly’s father advised him to get a job as a reporter in order to gather material for his stories—setting Connelly on the path to becoming one of greatest mystery writers of the past quarter century.
While covering the crime beat for various Florida newspapers—during which he wrote a Pulitzer Prize-nominated story on the Delta Flight 191 crash—Connelly penned two mysteries in his off-hours. But it wasn’t until he moved to California for a gig at the Los Angeles Times that he released his first published book, the 1992 Edgar Award-winning thriller The Black Echo.
The Black Echo introduced the world to Connelly’s signature creation: LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a former Vietnam War “tunnel rat” whose relentless (although some would say reckless) approach to solving crimes often runs him afoul of his bosses. After two more Bosch novels, Connelly quit journalism to write fiction full-time. His 32 published books include multiple series as well as standalones and have won just about every major award given to crime novelists—an astonishing feat for a kid who once couldn’t get the police to listen to him. Pick up one of the ten Michael Connelly books below to see why he's become such a major force in the genre.
The Black Echo (Harry Bosch #1)
The Bosch novels start with a bang as the disgraced LAPD detective, who’s recently been demoted for killing the prime suspect in a serial killer case, stumbles across a mystery that hits far too close to home. When a body found in a drain pipe at Mulholland Dam turns out to be a fellow “tunnel rat” who served alongside Bosch in Vietnam, the search for clues brings the battle-scared cop face-to-face with a gang of bank robbers who operate in tunnels beneath Los Angeles. To bring the criminals to justice, Bosch has to fight through his wartime traumas and match wits with a crooked cop. He and his struggles are masterfully brought to life by actor Titus Welliver in the television show Bosch.
The Last Coyote (Harry Bosch #4)
By the time Connelly sat down to write the fourth novel in his now-famous series, he’d quit his job at the Los Angeles Times to focus on his fiction. As a result, he frequently cites this searing tale of Bosch’s search for the man who killed his prostitute mother as his favorite novel in the series. Bosch has plenty of time on his hands to pursue his personal vendetta—his girlfriend just left him and he’s been suspended indefinitely from the force for attacking his commanding officer. Forced to attend therapy sessions by day, his nights are spent digging through his family’s darkest secrets to find the skeletons buried within.
Related: What Is Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction?
City of Bones (Harry Bosch #8)
No stranger to romantic intrigues, Bosch violates departmental policy by jumping into bed with rookie cop Julia Brasher. But workplace improprieties are the least of his concerns when uncovered human remains are traced back to a 12-year-old boy who disappeared 20 years ago. Bosch, Brasher, and his partner must dig through decades-old missing persons cases in search of clues that offer insight into the recently reopened investigation. But their efforts put them into a maze of danger—and not everyone will make it out alive.
Echo Park (Harry Bosch #12)
An indefatigable pursuer of justice who lives by the motto “everybody counts or nobody counts,” Bosch is pushed to his breaking point when a serial killer confesses to a string of unsolved murders—one of which Bosh failed to solve 13 years ago. The revelation that he could have prevented nine other murders sends the detective into a deep, debilitating funk. The only way out is to go toe-to-toe with the man who’s haunted his nightmares for more than a decade—and find out if he’s telling the truth.
The Black Box (Harry Bosch #16)
To mark the 20th anniversary of The Black Echo, Connelly gave Bosch a 20-year-old case to solve. When a young female photographer from Denmark was found shot to death during the 1992 LA riots, the police considered it a random act of violence. But a shell casing found at the scene of three other murders matches the bullet that killed the photojournalist—and Bosch begins to think she may have been targeted. Spanning from California’s central valley to Europe to the front lines of the war in Iraq, The Black Box is one of the most ambitious entries in the series and the winner of the world’s biggest monetary award for crime fiction, the RBA Prize for Crime Writing.
The Poet (Jack McEvoy #1)
For his first departure from the Harry Bosch series, Connelly drew on his previous career as a reporter. Jack McEvoy works the crime beat for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, but when he’s assigned to write the story of his twin brother’s apparent suicide, he starts making news of his own. Homicide detective Sean McEvoy was found in his car in a remote parking lot with a suicide note, but Jack soon uncovers a string of recent suicides by other cops who, like his brother, left one-line notes quoting Edgar Allan Poe. The coincidences are suspicious enough for the FBI to open an investigation, which McEvoy joins. Working alongside Agent Rachel Walling—who also appears in the Bosch novels—he races to unlock the identity of a serial killer nicknamed The Poet. But the truth might be far more shocking, and closer at hand, than McEvoy realizes …
Blood Work (Terry McCaleb #1)
Ex-FBI agent and criminal profiler Terry McCaleb is supposed to avoid all forms of stress—even driving—as he recovers from a heart transplant. But when his donor’s sister reveals that she was murdered in an unsolved convenience store robbery, McCaleb feels obligated to look into the matter. Not only does he uncover a definitive link between his donor’s death and two other murders, he finds a possible connection to the most difficult investigation of his career—the hunt for a serial murderer known as the Code Killer. When the police discover evidence linking McCaleb to the three recent murders, he realizes he’s been caught in an elaborate trap. The question is: Who set it? And can he get out alive? It's a question that has kept Michael Connelly's readers enthralled since the novel's publication in 1998—including Clint Eastwood, who adapted Blood Work into a feature film.
The Lincoln Lawyer (Lincoln Lawyer #1)
Connelly got the idea for his first legal thriller when he met a real-life Los Angeles attorney whose “office” was the backseat of his car. Mickey Haller, who just so happens to be Harry Bosch’s half-brother, prowl the streets of La La Land on behalf of a client roster full of drug dealers, con artists, and ladies of the night. He doesn’t believe in breaking the law—but he’ll bend it just about as far as it can go. When the wealthy mother of local real estate agent hires Mickey to defend her son on assault charges, he jumps at the chance to rack up the billable hours—and immediately finds himself entangled in a web of murder and intrigue that might be connected to a case he mishandled years ago. Watch the film adaptation starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey after you finish the book.
The Gods of Guilt (Lincoln Lawyer #5)
The most recent Lincoln Lawyer novel includes a cameo by Harry Bosch, but the show—and, he fears, the responsibility for a former client’s death—belong to Mickey Haller. After losing his bid to become district attorney, Haller is called to defend a cyber-pimp accused of murdering one of his prostitutes. The victim is a young woman that Haller thought he had rescued from the sex trade years ago, though it seems he might have only put her in more danger. Despite his personal connections to the victim, Haller believes in his client’s innocence and will do whatever he can to prove it—even if it means stepping into a viper’s nest of LA’s most dangerous criminals.
The Late Show (Renee Ballard #1)
The first of Connelly’s novels to feature a female lead character is a breakneck tale of murder, vengeance, sleepless nights, and surfing. After filing a sexual harassment claim against a superior, Detective Renee Ballard is demoted to the Hollywood police department’s night shift, known among cops as the Late Show. She’s often the first investigator to arrive at the crime scene, but when the sun rises she has to turn the cases over to her colleagues. Home for Ballard is a tent on the beach—she washes away the night’s unresolved traumas by surfing the morning’s waves. But when a cross-dresser is beaten and left for dead on the same night a waitress dies in a nightclub shooting, Ballard refuses to let either case go. Reporting for duty at midnight and tracking down leads during the day, she rides her adrenaline like a ripcurl. But waves crash, and so do people, and if Ballard gets in too deep it’s not just her job she’ll lose—it’s her life.
Featured photo of Michael Connelly: Alchetron