Hands off Harry Bosch – Writer Michael Connelly is determined to save his hero
Bestselling crime writer Michael Connelly has revealed his will contains strict instructions that no other author can continue the Harry Bosch franchise after his death as he fights a lawsuit accusing artificial intelligence of stealing his work.
The Bosch Legacy and Lincoln Lawyer creator is part of a class action against OpenAI – the multi-billion dollar company behind the controversial ChatGPT programme – for breach of copyright over the use of his novels to teach its own creation how to write. Connelly, 67, has joined forces with some of the world’s biggest literary names – including John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen, Jodi Picoult and Game of Thrones creator George R R Martin – in seeking damages against OpenAI in the US test case.
He was contacted, he explains, by trade body the Authors’ Guild after its researchers quizzed ChatGPT about Bosch and asked the programme if it could write a sequel to one of Connelly’s novels featuring the relentless LAPD detective.
“It said ‘yes’, so they called me up and told me,” Connelly explains. “That would freak anybody out.
“There’s no doubt AI is going to be positive – it’s already hugely positive in fields like medicine – but it threatens the creative process and takes people’s creations without consent, compensation or control.
“To me, that’s just wrong. So they didn’t really have to convince me to join the lawsuit. When they told me what was happening with my work, I just said, ‘I’m in’. When it hit the media, I kind of felt, ‘Wow, I’m in pretty good company here’.”
The stakes, the former journalist admits, are high for everyone involved.
“We’re taking on the future, in many ways. I don’t know if some people see this as just a move to get money. To me, it’s about controlling your own creative processes and what happens to what you create.
“At the same time, I think lives are being saved because of AI in medical applications. So it’s not like I’m mister non-digital or anti-AI. By coincidence, I have a little bit of a debate about it in my new book.”
Published earlier this month, Resurrection Walk sees Bosch, now a private detective, and his half-brother Mickey Haller, AKA the Lincoln Lawyer, seeking to free a woman they believe was wrongly jailed for the murder of her Sheriff’s deputy ex-husband.
After 40 years of locking up criminals, the ex-homicide detective will only look into cases of convicted people who claim they’re innocent. But the pair suffer a setback when the evidence they believe helps exonerate their client is thrown out of court because AI-related testimony is not yet allowed in Federal cases in the US.
“It took DNA a long time to be accepted in courts in my country,” says Connelly. “AI will eventually be accepted. It just hasn’t been yet. But that’s the kind of stuff I love doing. Having Mickey think he’s just won the case… then taking it away from him. That kind of stuff is a really fun thing to strategise and write.”
It’s not the only crossing point between the brilliant new book and the real world, of which more shortly, but continuing on the AI theme, Connelly reveals a clause in his will to stop anyone – human or computer – writing Bosch after their respective deaths.
“It’s specific to Bosch. I don’t know what would happen to Mickey Haller or my other characters,” he says. “But I’ve gotten this opportunity to write about Harry for 30-plus years and I want to end that series. So there should be no reason for him to be dug up from the grave and written about again by somebody else.
“I talked about it with my family, and said, ‘If you want to find someone who keeps writing Lincoln Lawyers or whatever, I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not going to be around’.
“But at the end of my days as a writer, the character who will stand up for me is Harry Bosch, and I don’t want that devalued by anyone else.”
Appearing at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate last year, Connelly told a packed audience he’d been thinking for the last decade or so of how he would end the series: “I have been very lucky… being able to write about this character in real-time for 30 years. It seems to me to be my duty to carry it from beginning to end.”
Today he reveals he was closer than he previously admitted to killing off Harry Bosch, who appeared in last year’s Desert Star, world-weary, melancholic and suffering with chronic myeloid leukaemia due to radiation exposure from an earlier case. And his detective, it emerges, had a fascinating stay of execution.
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“Desert Star was the end of a long book contract and I was going to turn 66 when I turned it in. So for two or three years, I was thinking I was gonna wrap it up and Desert Star was gonna be the last book.
“Then something happened when I was writing it and I got renewed energy. I signed another contract, so Harry’s still around.” But having written himself into a corner, as it were, with Bosch’s cancer, help came from the real world among the legions of Connelly fans.
“I got emails from doctors saying, ‘I know exactly what he has, and there are some clinical programs that are showing great success containing that form of cancer’,” Connelly smiles. “So I started a conversation with one of these doctors doing clinical trials and it became about prolonging life for Harry.”
So a real-life MD got in touch to say, ‘I can save the life of your fictional character because I love him so much’?
Talk about art imitating life.
“Yes, the doctor treating Harry in the book, Dr Austin Ferras, is named after the guy. It’s just a lucky break that he touches enough people that, even though he’s a fictional character, a real cancer doctor would reach out and say, ‘I have this fix’.”
It’s perhaps just as well. Aside from Connelly’s books, seven hit seasons of the Amazon Prime TV adaptation, Bosch, starring veteran US character actor Titus Welliver, 61, and a brilliant ensemble cast, have morphed into two further seasons of FreeVee spin-off, Bosch Legacy, with another one already commissioned.
All of which makes Bosch the longest-running streaming character in the world.
The spin-off has expanded the Bosch universe with lawyer Honey Chandler (introduced and killed off in Connelly’s third book, The Concrete Blonde, 1994), played brilliantly on-screen by Mimi Rogers, and Bosch’s daughter Maddie, portrayed by Madison Lintz, 24, coming to the fore.
Other stars include Stephen Chang, as hacker Mo, and Denise Sanchez as Maddie’s fellow cop Reina Vasquez.
“It’s spreading the storytelling out which I really enjoy. What’s amazing is not only that he’s the longest-running character in streaming, but I think this season, the ninth in total, is the best of all,” says Connelly.
Of Lintz, Connelly, who has sold 85 million books, continues: “We didn’t know what we would get 10 years ago when she’d been on one episode of The Walking Dead. She wasn’t a major character in the first season. So we thought, ‘Let’s give her a try and we can always recast if it doesn’t work out’. Now she’s become this amazing actress.”
Equally, Welliver himself, who shares writing credits with Connelly on two episodes of Bosch Legacy, has inhabited the character, though his collection of real-life tattoos was not something Connelly ever envisioned for Bosch, who in the books has a single ‘tunnel rat’ inking from his time in Vietnam.
When I wonder if the show’s going to have to address them, the author smiles: “You’re noticing things more than I hoped people would. Titus has an ever-adding collection. I guess we should show him in a tattoo shop in some episode.”
Resurrection Walk is the seventh novel featuring the Lincoln Lawyer, who first appeared as the titular hero of Connelly’s 2005 book, then played by Matthew McConaughey in a big-screen version in 2011. While Connelly’s books have increasingly cross-pollinated with one another, sadly televisions can’t do the same.
Over on Netflix, the new television adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer is now in its sophomore season starring Manuel Garcia-Rulfo with a totally different vibe to Bosch.
“I can’t take credit for that,” says the author. “That’s really a lot of different creative people on the show team, but also the influence of Netflix being very specific in what they wanted that show to be.
“First of all, music to my ears, they wanted to be loyal to the books. And they wanted a Mexican-American Mickey Haller, which comes from the books.”
Has García-Rulfo taken the Lincoln Lawyer’s crown from McConaughey then?
“Yeah, I think he has,” Connelly chuckles. “Matthew is an iconic actor, but we went the same way we did with Bosch in casting a journeyman like Titus; a really good actor, but not a household name. It was the same with Manuel. He’s well known in Mexico but he wanted to break out on a bigger stage.”
Today Connelly jokes it would take an Act of Congress to allow the two rival streaming services to share a character, so the chances of a TV crossover are unlikely.
“It would be cool if they met, but it’s Amazon and Netflix so I don’t see anything like that ever happening. But you know what, I get two really distinct shows, so I can’t categorise that as a regret.”
There is good news for fans, though. Connelly reveals his third major character, Renée Ballard, is currently in development for another Amazon show.
“We have a writing room working on a Ballard show and we’re hoping that, when we have scripts, Amazon will pull the trigger. I think there’s a really good chance.”
Also on the cards is another book, which he plans to start work on, as is his tradition, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly [FREE]
As for his current novel, already hailed as another Connelly classic by fans and critics, its title, Resurrection Walk, refers not only to the moment a prisoner jailed for life is finally, against all the odds, able to go free but also to Mickey Haller himself.
“It’s about Mickey resurrecting his zeal for the law and realising he has to go in a new direction,” Connelly adds.
“That’s the key part to me of the book, the process of him coming to realise, ‘My old ways are not going to work anymore’. I expect next time we see him, he’ll have a smaller operation and be more focused.”
Might it, perhaps, also refer to Connelly giving his favourite character a new lease of life too, I wonder? Fans can but hope the pioneering real-world treatment being trialled on Harry Bosch carries on working… so his mission can continue.
- Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly (Orion, £22) is out now. Visit expressbookshop.com or call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £25
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