Friday, April 30, 2010
Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a highly decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, wrote a column today that offers a valuable Vietnam War lesson on the 35th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam.
He wrote about why South Vietnam fell to the Communist North Vietnamese and why we should not abandon Afghanistan today.
You can read his column below:
WASHINGTON -- Just before first light April 30, 35 years ago this week, a U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopter from HMM-165, call sign "Lady Ace 09," landed on the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, to pick up Ambassador Graham Martin. Moments later, a message -- classified "secret" by the National Security Agency -- was flashed to the Oval Office informing the president, "Lady Ace 09 has the ambassador and his immediate staff on board."
Over the next several hours, dozens more messages were transmitted to the commander in chief, detailing virtually in real time herculean efforts to evacuate the remaining Americans from the city as North Vietnamese army, or NVA, regulars closed in on our last diplomatic, military and intelligence missions in the Republic of Vietnam. The now-declassified Operation Frequent Wind intercepts in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library read like a novel.
Nineteen minutes after the first transmission: "Lady Ace 09 reports feet wet. ... Lady Ace 13 reports outbound with 16 USA. ... Lady Ace 10 going in for landing." Two of the cables describe CS tear gas that nearly blinded the pilots. A half-hour into the evacuation: "Lady Ace 14 is on the roof. He reports small-arms fire on the northeast corner of the building in a small clump of trees at ground level. Lady Ace is loading at this time." Then, three minutes later: "Spectre reports numerous firefights all around the building. Swift 33 inbound feet dry. Lady Ace 14 reports off with 21 pax." The abbreviation "pax" is military-speak for passengers.
At 7:53 a.m., the final helicopter off the embassy roof -- a Marine CH-46 from HMM-164, call sign "Swift 22" -- brought out Maj. James Kean, the Marine Security Guard commander, and the last 10 of his Marines. Less than four hours later, NVA armor and infantry captured the presidential palace in Saigon.
This week, Lady Ace 09, freshly painted in Vietnam-era markings, was commemorated at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in California. Among the pilots and aircrew who gathered for the celebration were those like retired Col. Gerald Berry, who saved the U.S. ambassador and helped rescue more than 7,100 Americans and our allies during the frantic hours of Operation Frequent Wind.
There were even more attendees who were veterans of the current war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But no matter where or when they fought, nearly all had a common refrain: "This war shouldn't end like Vietnam." It doesn't have to.
There are pundits in the so-called mainstream media waxing eloquent about parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan, but those making the comparisons ignore some very inconvenient facts.
Most importantly, the adversaries confronted in both wars are radically dissimilar.
In Vietnam, U.S. troops and our allies faced nearly a quarter-million conscripted but well-trained, -disciplined and -equipped NVA regulars and upward of 100,000 highly organized Viet Cong insurgents from 1966 onward.
Each year of the war, the NVA launched multiple major campaigns against U.S. and Republic of Vietnam forces in accord with orders issued by authorities in Hanoi. When the Viet Cong collapsed in the aftermath of the 1968 Tet offensive, the NVA -- supported by the Soviet Union, Communist China and the Warsaw Pact -- simply increased its numbers.
The Republic of Vietnam didn't succumb to an insurgency 35 years ago this week. It was invaded by the army of a hostile neighbor. None of that is happening in the shadows of the Hindu Kush -- yet.
The 10,000 to 25,000 Taliban currently operating in Afghanistan have cross-border "safe havens" in Pakistan and receive some military training, equipment and logistics support from Pakistan and Iran. Taliban leaders once counted on financing from radical Wahhabi Islamists and received support and direction from elements of the Pakistani intelligence service.
Today the Taliban are a narco-insurgency, funded almost exclusively by opium. Their "warriors" and zealous "martyrs" claim Muslim purity, but their "military campaigns" are limited to planting improvised explosive devices, suicide bombings and murders. They aren't about to overwhelm Kabul -- or even a provincial capital.
That, of course, doesn't mean this war can't be lost, for there is one very important similarity between Vietnam and Afghanistan -- a parallel promise of withdrawing American troops and assistance.
In 1973, President Richard Nixon withdrew all American troops except for a handful of advisers from the Republic of Vietnam. The following December, Congress cut off all military aid to Vietnam. Four months later, U.S. Marines were making desperate sorties to the roof of our embassy in Saigon.
On this 35th anniversary of that event, President Barack Obama and his advisers would be wise to remember where the Vietnam War was really lost. It wasn't in the paddies or triple-canopy mountains of Southeast Asia. Vietnam was lost in the corridors of power in our own nation's capital. That never should happen again.
Oliver North is a columnist, an author, and the host of War Stories, an excellent TV series on FOX News.
You can visit North's website via the below link:
Thursday, April 29, 2010
But Conspirata (Simon & Schuster) is different than most crime thrillers, as the dead body in this novel is a slave who was murdered more than 2,000 years ago, and the person called to investigate is Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman orator and statesman.
Conspirata is a historical thriller written by Robert Harris, the British author of Enigma and Pompeii.
Prior to writing novels, Harris worked as a reporter for the BBC and then became the political editor for the British newspaper the Observer. He went on to become a columnist for the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph.
Robert Harris first introduced us to Cicero in his novel Imperium. Conspirata is the second novel in his planned trilogy about Cicero and ancient Rome.
Imperium is about the rise of Cicero to the position of consul. The novel’s narrator is Tiro, Cicero’s slave.
“My Name is Tiro,” Harris writes in Imperium. “For thirty-six years I was the confidential secretary of the Roman statesman Cicero. At first this was exciting, then astonishing, and finally extremely dangerous.”
Tiro is almost 100 years old when he writes these words. He states that he has often been asked what Cicero was really like, but he kept silent in fear for his life. But as he no longer fears death, he states that he offers this work as his answer.
Marcus Tullius Tiro was a real man. He was a slave, but he served as Cicero’s secretary and confidant. Thanks to Tiro’s invented system of shorthand, we have a historical record of Cicero’s great speeches. Tiro also wrote a biography of Cicero, but it was lost over the ages.
In a style that reminds me of Robert Graves’ great historical novels, I, Claudius and Claudius the God, both Imperium and Conspirata have Tiro as our narrator and guide through the most interesting times of ancient Rome.
When Cicero is called to the body found in the Tiber River, he was the consul-elect. The body was a young boy who had been bludgeoned, stabbed and then horribly mutilated.
This murder turns out to be a ritualistic slaying meant to cement the plotters who plan to overthrow the Roman Republic. This novel is about how Cicero puts down the plot, which was called the Catiline Conspiracy. The plotters are led by Lucius Sergius Catilna.
Catilina flees the city, leaving five other conspirators to be arrested. Harris shows us Cicero at his best in the Roman Senate debating the plotters’ fate. As Harris and others have noted, this was perhaps one of the world’s greatest parliamentary debates.
Cicero’s has the five men sentenced to death without the benefit of a trial. The five are taken to a prison and strangled.
For his actions in putting down the conspiracy, Cicero was given the title “Father of his Country.”
But then Cicero has to contend with the political intrigue of the young Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, AKA, Pompey the Great.
In an interview with Steve Inskeep at NPR, Robert Harris said that he found Cicero to be one of the most fascinating and attractive characters in history.
“He was brilliant, he was self-made, and a man of great complexity who is accessible to the modern mind, I think,” Harris said.
Harris said that Cicero left behind 700 letters.
“In a way, this book in particular, is a duel between Cicero and Caesar, two ambitious men, but with very different forms of ambition. Cicero’s ambition is to rise within the system. Caesar’s desire is to smash the republic and remake it in his own image.”
The clash between the two historical figures - who are, Harris noted, sort of wary friends and admirers - is truly the dynamic of the novel.
“And I believe that Cicero has had a less of a good shake from history than Caesar, who was in some ways, a monster - along the lines of a Napoleon or even Hitler,” Harris said.
In Conspirata, we see Rome at a time of civil unrest, rampant crime and utter debauchery. One often reads about backstabbing politicians and cutthroat politics, but in ancient Rome, the phrases are quite literal.
Like any student of history, I know the outcome of Cicero, Caesar and the Roman Empire, but yet I still enjoyed the suspense of this most interesting historical thriller.
I look forward to reading Harris’ third novel of Cicero and ancient Rome.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I spent a good bit of time in Dunoon, which was the town nearest to the base, and I had a flat in Glasgow. I also visited Edinburgh quite often, ventured north to visit Inverness and Loch Ness, and I visited a good number of other Scottish cities, towns and offshore islands during my time there. I also visited London.
The base also had several small boats that tied up to the barge. Two of the boats were 100-foot harbor tugboats, which were the workhorses of the bustling naval base.
The tugboats were often sent to sea to rendezvous with submarines for medivacs, classified missions and transfers of the COMSUBRON 14 Commodore and his staff. The tugboats also went to sea to perform in exercises with the submerged submarines and then retrieved the torpedoes used in the exercises from the sea.
During the winter months the tugboat sailed into rough and cold seas, gale force winds and high waves.
Working on the tugboat was hard, physical and dangerous, but we were proud of our service. Working with the rugged and independent crew on the tugboat felt like I was serving in McHale's Navy, one of my favorite TV shows from my youth.
I worked on deck, stood helm watches while at sea, stood security watches in port, and during my second year onboard I was the boat's supply petty officer.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Make Friends With Eddie Coyle By Reading George V. Higgins' Crime Classic & By Watching Peter Yates' Fine Film Adaptation
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Henry Hill, a former Lucchese organized crime associate and the subject of Nicholas Pileggi's true crime book Wiseguy, which was later made into Martin Scorsese's film Goodfellas, appeared on CNN and stated he was not surprised by the recent indictment and arrest of 14 alleged members of the Gambino crime family for running an interstate prostitution ring that included an underage girl
"The mob is just out to make a buck," Hill told CNN.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the use of an underage girl for prostitution a new low for the mob.
The 23-count indictment also includes charges of murder, drug trafficking and racketeering.
Hill (seen in the above photo and below in an earlier FBI mug shot) testified against his former criminal cohorts in 1984 and was placed for a time in the federal witness protection program.
You can view the CNN video of Hill via the below link:
The column covered the recent rash of arson fires striking businesses and residents across the nation. The column also offers some tips on how to prevent arson.
You can read the column via the below link:
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The British newspaper The Guardian notes that Mark Twain's fans across the world - count me as one - are ignoring his 1896 dictum that "What ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Mere killing would be too light."
The newspaper also reports that an intimate memoir has been revealed during the 100th anniversary of Twain's death. You can read the piece via the below link:
How well do you know Mark Twain? The Guardian also offers a quiz:
Monday, April 19, 2010
On April 20, 1841, Edgar Allan Poe Launched the Detective Story Genre With the Publication of The Murders of the Rue Morgue
Wired.com posted an interesting piece that commemorates Edgar Allan Poe, who on April 20, 1841, published The Murders in the Rue Morgue in Graham's Magazine, thus launching the detective story into popular culture and acclaim.
You can read the piece via the below link:
Sunday, April 18, 2010
As a journalist before and after World War II, and as a naval intelligence officer during World War II, Fleming picked up facts, ideas, and stories that he would later use in his series of thrillers.
In an earlier post - http://pauldavisoncrime.blogspot.com/2010/03/interplay-between-truth-and-fiction-ian.html - I wrote about Ian Fleming's interplay between fact and fiction.
In the post I linked to a Ben Macintyre piece in The Times of London that covered the true origins of Fleming's characters James Bond and Auric Goldfinger and the plot of his thriller Goldfinger.
Now the British newspaper The Telegraph has written an interesting piece that suggests that Paul Dehn, a British screenwriter and former World War II intelligence officer, followed in Fleming's footsteps and based the opening sequence in the classic 1964 film thriller Goldfinger on a true espionage case in World War II.
"It is one of James Bond's most famous scenes, showing the agent at his deadliest – and most dapper," writes The Telegraph.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Robert De Niro is speaking to the press about his plans to film The Irishman with director Martin Scorsese.
You can watch a video of De Niro speaking about the upcoming film and read about it via the below link:
Scorsese and De Niro (seen in above photo) have collaborated to make such classic films as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino. I look forward to seeing them work together on another crime film.
The Irishman interests me as the film is based on a crime story with a South Philadelphia connection. The film is based on the true crime book I heard You Paint Houses, which was about Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran.
Sheeran was a Philadelphia native, Teamster union official and a confessed hit man for Cosa Nostra. Sheeran states in his book that his first hit was ordered by South Philadelphia Cosa Nostra mob boss Angelo Bruno. Sheeran also claimed to have murdered former Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa and New York mobster Crazy Joe Gallo.
I heard You Paint Houses was written by Charles Brant, a lawyer and former prosecutor. He wrote the book based on four years of taped interviews with Sheeran.
I wrote about the book for GreatHistory.com and you can read my piece via the link below:
You can also read my other GreatHistory.com pieces on espionage and American crime via the below link:
Thursday, April 15, 2010
“Always keep the hose’s stream of water between the fire and you,” I recall my Navy fire instructor telling me so many years ago.
If you let the
flames get around you, I learned, they’ll reach out and hit you like a boxer’s
jab. That’s what happened to me when I was an 18-year-old sailor attending the
U.S. Navy Fire Fighting School in San Diego.
After the deadly fire that killed 134 sailors and injured many more on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in1967 all carrier sailors were ordered to attend two or more firefighting schools.
In 1970 I was among a small group of sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk that crowded into a square cement structure that simulated a ship’s compartment at the firefighting school. I held the nozzle of a long hose and I began to wave the hose in short left to right movements. As I waved the hose too sharply to the left, I allowed the fire to slip past me on my right. The flicker of flame seemed almost human — perhaps even supernaturally evil — as it lashed out like a whip and struck my right arm.
The pain and shock of getting burned caused me to drop the hose’s nozzle and jump back. Fortunately, the instructor grabbed the discarded nozzle quickly and he ordered me out of the burning structure. To my further embarrassment, the heavy smoke and the hood of my poncho impaired my vision and I hit my head on the oval hatchway as I was exiting the structure. The other instructors rushed to me, as they believed I was seriously injured.
As it turned out, my burns were superficial and the head injury was only a bump, but my pride received some serious blows that day. I returned to the fire a while later and completed the course without further incidents.
After graduating from firefighting school I went on to fight some real fires during my Navy days, but thankfully the fires were nothing along the lines of the fire on the USS Forrestal.
I learned to respect the power and fury of fire at the Navy’s firefighting school and I came to truly respect firefighters.
I thought of my Navy firefighting experiences as I read about the New York fireman who was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison last week for setting a fire that killed a mother and her three children.
Prosecutors said that Caleb Lacey, a volunteer fireman, committed the arson so he could act the part of a hero.
The firefighter/arsonist is not a new phenomenon. I've covered fires and arson as a reporter and I’ve heard firemen and investigators speak of other cases where bent firemen have set fires in the hope they will be acknowledged as a hero when they first arrive on the scene.
This recent case brings to mind another case involving a California fire investigator turned arsonist named John Orr.
Joseph Wambaugh’s Fire Lover: A True Story chronicles the strange case of Fire Captain John Orr, who was once a respected fire investigator.
Orr, currently incarcerated for life for the crimes of arson and murder, is considered to be the most prolific arsonist in American history.
In addition to causing millions of dollars worth of damage to private homes and businesses, one of his fires caused the deaths of four people.
Wambaugh, a Los Angeles detective sergeant turned crime novelist and true crime author, received his second Edgar Award for Best Crime Fact Book from the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) in 2003 for Fire Lover. The following year the MWA gave Wambaugh a Grand Master Award.
In Fire Lover, Wambaugh describes Orr as a “cop-wanna-be” and a “head-case who does not know it.” Initially rejected by both the LA police and fire departments, Orr became a Glendale, California fireman and part-time security guard. Wambaugh wrote about Orr’s aggressive crime fighting as a Sears’ security guard and on the job as a fire inspector. Wambaugh wrote about Orr’s near-comical chasing of criminals in his fire department vehicle. His antics caused some contention, and a good bit of ridicule, from the real cops.
Orr would go on, Wambaugh tells us, to become a respected arson investigator. He wrote articles for trade and professional journals and held seminars for other arson investigators. He was known for his uncanny ability to be the first on the scene of a fire and for finding arson devices and “points of origin.”
Of course investigators would later discover that Orr had the inside track on the arsons, having set the fires himself. Wambaugh estimates that Orr set more than 2,000 fires over a ten year period.
Orr wrote and shopped around his novel called Points of Orgin, which was about a fire investigator who hunted a serial arsonist. HBO based a disappointing movie on the unpublished novel. Orr’s novel was so close to the reality of his two sides — fire inspector and arsonist — that prosecutors used the novel as evidence at his trial.
Wambaugh paints Orr as a pyromaniac and psychopathic personality and calls him a “fire monster.” Wambaugh wrote of his sexual deviant attraction to arson and his odd relationships with several women.
In Fire Lover Wambaugh also details the relationship between cops and firemen (unlike cops, everyone loves a fireman) and he covers what he calls the “Balkanization of American law enforcement.”
Balkanization is his term for the lack of communication between clannish, competitive and suspicious law enforcement officers. Although the horrific terrorist attacks on 9/11 have made law enforcement communicate more, this problem still has to be resolved, especially in the light of the possibility of another terrorist attack.
Wambaugh tells how an arson task force investigated Orr after his fingerprint was found on one of the arson devices, which was made from a cigarette, a rubber band, paper matches and a piece of notebook paper.
In the last part of Fire Lover Wambaugh chronicles the lengthy state and federal trials and he utilizes 8,000 pages of court transcripts. The passages offer the reader a primer on the American justice system and Wambaugh makes the case that the time has come for professional jurors. I’m inclined to agree.
There is also a great passage in the book I'd like to share.
He wrote that "the vast-government-conspiracy theories floated in hundreds of books and films have never failed to produce howls of laughter when mentioned at law-enforcement gatherings, especially in the aftermath of JFK, when the vast government conspiracy included the FBI, CIA and all the other three-letter agencies staffed by bureaucrats who are mostly loathed and distrusted by street cops. Those with an alliterative flair call them grandstanding government geeks in penny loafers or bumbling back-stabbing bureaucrats who wouldn’t conspire to peek inside a girlfriend’s underwear without the approval of a U.S. attorney and a search warrant."
"But what really brings down the station house," Wambaugh continued, "is when, in order to make the JFK conspiracy work, all the revisionists had to include the Dallas Police Department. And that does it every time. Cops get to knee slapping and falling out of their chairs over the thought of it. Because everyone who’s ever worn a badge knows the moment a cop gets a real secret, the drums start beating and the asphalt jungle wireless starts humming, and the first leggy news chick with tits out to here will be blabbing the secret on the news at ten even before the cop wives get to tell it to the gang at the office and the girls at the gym."
Fire is one of the most destructive forces on earth. Wambaugh’s Fire Lover offers a tale of what happens when a monster like John Orr uses the destructive power for his personal gratification.
You can read my review of Wambaugh's last novel, Hollywood Moon, and link to my Q&A with Joseph Wambaugh via the below link:
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
In this piece, Fontova focuses on Che Guevara - hero of the Communists, the left and ignorant entertainers and students - and his comical military actions during the Bay of Pigs.
Guevara, the so-called great guerrilla fighter, whose famous photo is pasted on t-shirts worn by celebrities and protesters around the world, shot himself during the invasion.
You can read Fontova's piece via the below link:
You can read my previous post on Fontova and the Bay of Pigs via the below link:
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
It was a dark moment in American history. I believe we should have fully supported the brigade and helped them overthrow Fidel Castro and his Communist regime.
You can read his column, the Bay of Pigs - An Anniversary of Heroism and Shame, via the link below:
You can view the video on Youtube.com via the below link:
Friday, April 9, 2010
He's led an interesting life and he has written an interesting book called Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities (University of Penn Press), which comes out next month.
Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities documents Timoney's rise, from his days as a tough street cop in the South Bronx to his role as police chief of Miami. This fast-moving narrative by the man Esquire magazine named "America's Top Cop" offers a blueprint for crime prevention through first-person accounts from the street, detailing how big-city chiefs and their teams can tame even the most unruly cities.
Policy makers and academicians have long embraced the view that the police could do little to affect crime in the long term. John Timoney has devoted his career to dispelling this notion.
"If he had thought of him first, Damon Runyon would have invented John Timoney. A self-made man in the 'Runyonesque' mode, John Timoney recounts his remarkable story in this compelling book. He emerges from these pages as a cop's cop and a chief's chief, with a bit of a poet mixed in."—Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner.
"John Timoney writes like he talks (except, unfortunately for the reader, without his delightful Irish brogue). Beat Cop to Top Cop recounts his brilliant career in an always entertaining and insightful way. True to his Dublin story telling heritage, his tale draws the reader into the always exciting world of policing from the beat to the Commissioner's suite."—Bill Bratton, former Chief of Police, Los Angeles.
"John Timoney is pure cop: tough and blunt, sensitive and caring. Deputy Commissioner in New York City, Commissioner in Philadelphia, and Chief in Miami, Timoney helped create Compstat and reduce crime in New York, bring homicide under control in Philadelphia, and demonstrated in Miami that he could reduce police shootings without endangering officers or allowing crime to increase."—George L. Kelling, author of Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order And Reducing Crime In Our Communities.
You can read the rest of his forward to the book via the below link:
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
My On Crime & Security Column: Beware of Private Firms Who Scam Small Businesses When Offering to Secure SBA Funds
My column covered the Small Business Administration's (SBA) warnings about some private firms using abusive marketing practices and scams, as well as charging exorbitant fees, to help unsuspecting small businesses obtain a loan, grant or other federal funds from the SBA.
You can read my column via the below link:
Monday, April 5, 2010
I read an interesting piece about newspaper movies by Stephen Whitty at the Star-Ledger.
Newspaper movies, it seems to me, depict newspapers about as well as cop movies depict cops and military movies depict the military - which is to say, not well.
I've wanted to be a writer since I was 12, and like Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and many more of my teenage literary heroes, my plan was to write for newspapers prior to writing fiction. So in addition to reading newspapers and books about writers, reporters and newspapers, I loved watching the old newspaper movies while growing up.
I went on to write my first piece for the ship's newspaper as an 18-year-old sailor stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in 1970. I would continue to write military journalism for U.S. Navy and Defense Department publications for many more years.
I'm especially fond of The Front Page, Ace in the Hole, Citizen Kane and His Gal Friday.
Friday, April 2, 2010
The U.S. Navy took decisive action against pirates on April 1st in the Indian Ocean.
The USS Faragut (seen in above photo) destroyed pirate craft and captured the pirates, showing them a small display of American naval power.
The U.S. and other nations need to deliver more of this kind of action to preserve the sea lanes and protect commercial shipping from these ragtag pirates.
You can read about this action via the below links:
Thursday, April 1, 2010
My Crime Beat Column: Killers, Cops and Crime Reporters: My Q & A With Crime Writer Michael Connelly
I spoke to Michael Connelly about his latest novel, Nine Dragons, and his previous novel, The Scarecrow. We also discussed the Internet, crime novels, crime, Clint Eastwood, and the current state of journalism.
Below is my interview with him:
DAVIS: I enjoyed The Scarecrow, which I reviewed here. In The Scarecrow did you set out to have a clash of characters, with one from the declining newspaper industry, and the other from the rising technology industry? Were you looking to do more in this novel than just having an interesting backdrop - or in this case, two?
CONNELLY: Yeah. I was trying to carry over a metaphor. It’s very simplistic to say that the Internet is killing the newspaper, but it is part of what’s happening. So I started with the idea that well, if the Internet is a newspaper killer, then I was going to have a newspaper guy go after an Internet killer. That was kind of what made that leap. But often you just take stuff that comes to you. I have a friend who lives in Milwaukee. He’s like my researcher. He is a private investigator and he used to work for a law firm. He’s always doing a lot of work on the Internet. That’s what a lot of private eyes do these days, and in an offhand conversation, he was talking about how they back-up their data to an off-site location. I started asking questions about what an “off-site” location was. That led me to this world of “server farms” and so forth. It just seemed so very fascinating to me and that’s where that angle came from.
DAVIS: I don’t know what was more frightening about the serial killer - that he murdered people or his ability use the Internet to wreak havoc on one’s life. Serials killers can be boring - in crime fiction, certainly not in reality - but you gave your serial killer character an interesting background in computer technology.
CONNELLY: I think that fiction goes down its own path from reality and, as you say, a serial killer is a very serious and horrible thing in reality, but it’s rare that they have the kind of chops that you see in fiction. It’s a product of having to keep drama as one of the major balls to keep in the air. And so you often see this kind of skill. One of the early origins of this book was an offhand discussion that I had with an FBI agent. We talked about the Internet and how it has all these wonderful things - a great advance for all mankind - but the social networking it offers in the positive way also has a negative side. And that’s that people with aberrant desires and tastes can now go on the Internet, type in a few words, and find someone who has the same tastes. They can find community and acceptance of something that society would not accept. So what the FBI agent was predicting is that you will find more people meeting on the Internet and acting out on their fantasies because they have found someone who shares them. And that is a pretty scary thought. There is no anctidotal or empirical data that proves that’s what happening, or will happen, but I write fiction and it stuck in my head and it was something that came up later in the story.
DAVIS: Do you lament the decline of the newspaper?
CONNELLY: Yes. My job here is to write a thriller - to be entertaining and keep the pages turning - but you always have an opportunity to say something or open up a window on something happening in the world, and what I chose, in this case, was to write about newspapers. I believe that a newspaper is a community tent pole. It holds up a lot of the community. I think you’ll get your information and news reporting and some of your community on the Internet for sure, but it definitely will not replace the newspaper. I just don’t know if a website, a blog, or any of that, will ever be the tent pole that the newspaper is.
DAVIS: It appears to me that the biggest source of news and information on the Internet today are the magazine and newspapers’ online editions. In my view, I think that newspapers are simply going to change from printing paper to posting the publication entirely on the Internet. It will be the same organizations and news and information products, but minus the costly paper and distribution costs.
CONNELLY: I think that they have started that, but have they been able to figure out how to stay financially viable if they are only on the Internet?
DAVIS: No, not yet. Rupert Murdock is planning to charge for access to his newspapers online. I hope this will not be the way to go. I only get the Philadelphia Inquirer in print but I read a dozen or so other newspapers online.
CONNELLY: I read a lot online too and I get a couple of real papers delivered. Yeah, they are shifting to the Internet, but that won’t last if they can’t find a model. A friend of mine at the Washington Post said someone has to invent the iPod for newspapers, something that captures the market and makes money, or they won’t survive, even on the Internet.
DAVIS: It seems that young people are doing all of their reading online. Reading a print newspaper or book seems to be going out of fashion.
CONNELLY: I have a 13-year-old daughter and I don’t know what we did right or wrong, as she loves reading books, but she is glued to the computer several hours a day. That is the future right there.
DAVIS: Having the newspaper versus technology backdrop makes your book more interesting, it seems to me. It also seems to me that crime fiction and thrillers often tackle subject matters more interesting and more serious than one sees in literary fiction. Of course, what is more serious than murder?
CONNELLY: I share that view. Some of it has to do with the contemporary nature of crime novels. I write at least a book a year. You see that more often in crime fiction, especially in a series. If you want to establish a series, you can’t go six years between books - you keep them coming. One of the positive sides of that kind of hard work is you’re able to be almost contemporaneous with what is happening in the world. There is a reality in these books that you don’t get in the literary novels. A case in point is 9/11. There were several references to how 9/11 changed our world in crime fiction within months. Now you’re seeing the literary giants coming out with 9/11-inspired fiction. It’s all good stuff, but its many years after the fact.
DAVIS: We have always had good crime writers, but we appear to have more truly good crime writers today. In decades past, you might have one or two. We have much more than two today. Certainly, I think you are one of the leaders in the field.
CONNELLY: Thanks for saying that. I think what writers are seeing is an art form there. I loved reading crime fiction when I was growing up. When I read Raymond Chandler it changed my world. It was not only entertainment and stuff I wanted to read about, there was an art to it, certainly an artistic endeavor to it. If you talk to most crime writers - we all talk about this - we all knew we could write some serious stuff within this genre
DAVIS: I recall reading that Raymond Chandler once said something along the line that “people will still be reading the best of our work when so-called serious literature will be one with the telephone books.” I like that.
DAVIS: You mentioned that you have a researcher and even though you’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, did you do any research on the current state of newspapers?
CONNELLY: Well, I was kind of caught with my pants down. I haven’t been a reporter in 14 years. I wrote the first draft of the book using my experience and knowledge. But then I did something smart. I gave my manuscript to people that are currently in the business, two people in particular. I said read this and tell me if it works. They both liked the story as a thriller but they said I was seriously out of date in my view of how a newsroom works. Through researching with them and getting feedback from them, I was able to update the book. It was mostly on a technological level. In my first draft I didn’t have Angela Cook, one of the characters, filing a story from the press conference. It was the old way of hurrying back to get it into the paper. I didn’t have anybody filing for the Internet edition and those types of things. The story was all there. The instincts of a reporter have not changed, Jack McAvoy is still kind of my voice, but I did have to update and make it more of a newspaper story set in 2009 instead of 1994, when I quit being a reporter.
DAVIS: That was a criticism of David Simon on his last season of The Wire. The newspaper he depicted was pre-Internet. And a bunch of reporters picked up on that.
CONNELLY: I guess I didn’t pick up on that. I loved The Wire. It was part of the inspiration for me writing this.
DAVIS:: I’m a fan The Wire as well, but people who worked on daily newspapers said that this was not the way newspapers operate today. Perhaps he was writing from his perspective from a dozen years ago when he was last a newspaper reporter. That was one of the few negative things I read about the series.
CONNELLY: The Scarecrow does have that component in it, and the feedback I’ve gotten from some journalists is that it was there, but I can’t take credit for it. Thankfully my friends that I showed it too were not the type who would just say, oh, you’re wonderful. They did come back and help me.
DAVIS: Were you surprised or shocked by anything you learned, either in the declining world of newspapers or in technology?
CONNELLY: I worked at The LA Times and I read it online so I guess I’m part of the problem. I live in Tampa so I can’t get the paper. I knew the paper had declined since I worked there and but I didn’t realize how much until I started asking some questions. The biggest shocker was the loss in circulation. When I left there the daily circulation was around 1.2 million and I found out when I was researching this book it’s down to 750,000. I didn’t realize the decline was so sharp. As I was getting into this book and writing about people taking buy-outs or forced out and so forth, I became pessimistic about this and started thinking this isn’t a downward spiral for the printed page, it’s a death spiral. As you say, it will resurface in other forms on the Internet so perhaps it’s not a death spiral.
DAVIS: Newspapers claim the Internet is stealing newspaper advertising, but newspapers are also selling advertising on their Internet sites. But I guess not enough.
CONNELLY: The stuff that newspapers used to offer readers are really shrinking.
DAVIS: I love your comment in the novel that the news is on the web overnight, so the newspaper should be called The Daily Afterthought. That was clever.
CONNELLY: That was ripped from my own editor.
DAVIS: You mentioned that Jack McEvoy was your voice. Is the character autobiographical?
CONNELLY: Not the details of his life, growing up in Colorado and having a twin, but what is autobiographical is his view of the business. So when I’m writing this story I’m not pushing my chair back away from the computer and rubbing my chin, wondering what this character would do. I just wrote what I would do. He says what I would say and thinks what I would think. So in that way we’re pretty close. I don’t know if that qualifies as autobiographical.
DAVIS: Do you find it easier to write about McAvoy than a detective like Harry Bosch?
CONNELLY: Yes, definitely, because I do have that process of pushing back and thinking what would Bosch do, what would he say? How would he react? And it takes longer. I wrote this book very quickly, just like The Poet. I didn’t have that middle step. It just came out of me - this is what I would say.
DAVIS: Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite writers and I read that you became interested in crime after reading Raymond Chandler in college.
CONNELLY: I was already interested in crime and I was reading a lot of it before I read Chandler. I had this bias when I was a teenager. I wanted to read contemporary crime stories. This was in the 1970s. I didn’t feel like reading a book set in 40s in LA. I skipped Chandler. Obviously I heard about him and he had been recommended, but I was not interested. Then I saw The Long Goodbye, the Robert Altman movie, which was contemporary. I had not yet read Chandler so I just saw this cool story set in LA and that made me pick up the book. Even though the book was set a couple decades earlier, I realize this book was even better than the movie.
DAVIS: After reading Chandler, did you become a crime reporter with the idea of later writing crime fiction?
CONNELLY: Yes. After I went through that whole Chandler thing, I went into journalism because I wanted a press pass that would get me in the police stations to learn about crime.
DAVIS: Besides Chandler, what other writers influenced you?
CONNELLY: The biggest was Joseph Wambaugh and Ross MacDonald. Those three were very important to me. I was also reading a lot of true crime.
DAVIS: Did crime films or TV crime shows influence you as well?
CONNELLY: Definitely. Bullitt with Steve McQueen was a big one. My mother didn’t like crime movies, but my dad loved them so he was always taking me to R-rated movies when I was 12. So I saw everything into the 1970s. Kojak and Mannix were also influential. I loved them all.
DAVIS: Clint Eastwood made a good film from your book Blood Work. How was your experience in working with him?
CONNELLY: I tried to suggest that he not change some stuff, but he had his reasons. He sent me the script and I had objections. He didn’t even have to respond, but he sat down and had long conversations with me. He tried to tell me his reasons, which were cinematic as opposed to the printed word story.
DAVIS: I’ve heard that Clint Eastwood is a true gentleman and a total professional.
CONNELLY: He is a very good guy and he was very good to me.
DAVIS: Why do you think crime stories are so compelling and so popular with readers?
CONNELLY: There are all kinds of reasons. The stakes are high. People are making very serious choices and deep down we all want to know how we would react when the chips are down and we have to make choices with pretty high consequences. I think that is one of the basic things that attracts us to crime stories. There is also a subconscious thing that it is a complicated world and often things are tied up with order being restored in crime novels. There is a comfort in that and what you touched on earlier, these books are very contemporary and they reflect what’s going on in the world. Personally, as a reader, that’s what draws me to them.
DAVIS: Is Harry Bosch based on a detective or detectives you knew as a reporter?
CONNELLY: Yes, in part. I was influenced by many different detectives and I took from them all. He is also influenced by some of those characters we talked about in shows and movies and fictional detectives from books. So he comes from all over, especially in the beginning. In more recent years, I matched him kind of closely to one specific detective in the LAPD. He does what Harry does, like the early retirement thing that Harry did. Since Harry came back to the police department in The Closers he has been kind of following the career path and even some of the same cases as this detective.
DAVIS: Harry Bosch is a troubled character, isn’t he? I suppose that is one of the things that makes him interesting.
CONNELLY: When you write a book you are a slave to drama and one of the ways to create drama is to have your character have obstacles in front of him. A guy who is troubled, who has difficulty with women and supervisors and getting along - feeling he is an outsider looking in - all these things are ways of bringing drama to the forefront and keeping your reader plugged in.
DAVIS: When you were a reporter did you have good relations with the cops?
CONNELLY: With some of them, yeah. With some of them, no. Especially when I worked in LA where the police department is very media-savvy because one of the main centers of media entertainment. Nearly every cop on the beat understands that something said to a reporter can blow up in his face. When I worked in smaller communities away from LA, like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I could just walk into the homicide bureau and sit down and just chat and have complete access. That never happened in Los Angeles. They don’t let you near people until they can trust you. It was a much harder job in LA. You make some inroads and you get sources and some sources become friends. Some places you never get through. As an institution, the LAPD and The LA Times hate each other.
DAVIS: Do the cops like Harry Bosch?
CONNELLY: Yes, they like him. I have much better access to police now than when I was a reporter. I get more genuine stories and feelings about the job from them.
DAVIS: Do you feel in some ways you’re still a reporter? Your copy is just different.
CONNELLY: That’s kind of funny to say, but that’s the way I believe.
DAVIS: Do you miss daily journalism or some aspect of daily journalism?
CONNELLY: I miss the camaraderie of the newsroom but as far as writing daily journalism, I kind of feel like I do it. I try to get my books as accurate as possible and I do research like a reporter.
DAVIS: I reviewed your latest novel, Nine Dragons, for The Philadelphia Inquirer, but I’d like to hear you describe the novel.
CONNELLY: It’s a Bosch novel and it been brewing for a while. It is a story about Harry’s daughter, who has been referenced obliquely in the books up to now, and that relationship between father and daughter comes out front. There is a mystery aspect to it and a homicide and Harry is trying to find out who is responsible, but the main focus is his relationship with his daughter.
DAVIS: Can you explain the title?
CONNELLY: Harry goes to Hong Kong in the book and Kowloon, which means Nine Dragons, is part of Hong Kong.
DAVIS: I visited Hong Kong when I was in the Navy years ago. I loved the place. Did you go there?
CONNELLY: Yes, when I researched the book. Very interesting place.
DAVIS: Thanks for the interview and I look forward to reading your next book.
Below is a link to my Philadelphia Inquirer review of Connelly's novel Nine Dragons: