Murder, He Writes
Michael Connelly was in town last weekend. He did a book signing at the Barnes & Noble off Federal Highway, then attended the 75th anniversary dinner of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, his alma mater.
I’ve taken an interest in Connelly’s success as a crime story writer, partly because I made a minor contribution to his career. In the early 1980s I got a call from his father, also Michael Connelly, a former Philadelphian who at the time was working for Arvida, busily leasing out Boca Raton’s Town Center. He asked if I knew anybody at the Sun-Sentinel. His son was working for the newspaper in Daytona Beach and wanted to get back to Fort Lauderdale.
I did know people at the Sun-Sentinel. Joe Jennings, with whom I had worked at a suburban Philadelphia paper, was the city editor. A few years before that Bill Bondurant, at the time the managing editor, had recalled that I worked in Chester, Pa., in the 1960s and wondered if I knew Joe Jennings, who had applied for work. I gave Joe a strong recommendation, which he deserved, despite the fact that he used to kill some of my best columns on the grounds that they were massively libelous.
As a young columnist, I was desperate for approval. From the back of the news room I would watch Joe’s reaction when he read my stuff. His shoulders would shake in laughter. Then he came back and said: “Funniest thing I ever read Bern. It ain’t running.”
Anyway, I told Joe I did not know young Connelly, and had never read a line of his work, but I knew his parents and, judging by them, he had to be a great guy with exceptional talent. Joe Jennings set up the interview, Michael Connelly got the job, and a few years later he was part of a team nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. I actually arranged another interview at the same time for a young fellow who had done some interning for us at the magazine. He was pretty good. But he never showed up for the interview.
I eventually got to know the younger Connelly. The newspaper people used to meet on Friday nights at Poet’s (now Mango’s) on Las Olas, and for awhile he was a regular.
Michael Connelly moved to Los Angeles in the late 80s, and a few years later he burst upon the literary scene (at least the crime story genre) with Black Echo. It was the beginning of fame. Many books later people marvel at his knowledge of police work and the minds of criminals. He has a great sense for the small details that bring people and places alive. Sadly, his father never lived to see it. He died just as his son was making it big. His mother did, however, and by the time she was called about seven years ago she knew her son was going down in history, along with such names as Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald, as a master of a special form of literature.
Recently I learned from one of his school buddies that Connelly had the playful habit of throwing in faintly disguised names of some of his old Fort Lauderdale acquaintances. We all got a free copy of his latest book, The Fifth Witness at the St. Thomas Aquinas dinner. I read the first few pages when I got home. Right there in the opening scene a murder victim’s name is Mitchell Bondurant. We already mentioned Bill Bondurant and his son is named Michael. Both are quite alive.
As for the other guy who never showed up for the interview, he became a chef. Pretty good, it is said. The last time I saw him he said he’d still like to do some writing.