Saturday, October 20, 2012

Michael Connelly's introduction to Earthquake Weather

Yes, Mike and I are friends and we work together on a lot of things. But he's the most honest guy I know, so I doubt there's a word of this he doesn't believe. It's worth reading as a beautiful piece of writing about Los Angeles, even if you are not interested my work.

                                                          THE BIG MIRAGE

   The City of Angels is supposed to be a desert. Los Angeles is a mirage created with water channeled and piped in from hundreds of miles away. Those palm trees aren’t supposed to be here. The lush green hillsides should be desolate and stark. In many ways that makes L.A. simply the world’s biggest set and it seems both telling and right that this is the place where we find Hollywood. Hollywood is the Big Mirage, a place where nothing and nobody is real, where faces and breasts and morals and motives are synthetic and always changeable. You don’t like this one? Then how about this one?
   Perhaps no writer knows this turf better than Terrill Lee Lankford. Perhaps no book has defined it better than this one – and, I might add, from the very first line: I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, but on any given night Los Angeles can do a pretty good imitation of either locale.
   That says it all. Lankford uses the crime genre as the frame within which he hangs his painting of a place in turmoil. It is not a thick, obvious frame. It is thin, just enough to be noted at the margins. The painting is a story set in a place turned upside down by nature. Lankford uses an earthquake to viciously awaken the inhabitants from moral slumber. He turns the city on its side and casts our protagonist Mark Hayes on a journey across the treacherous landscape. I have read all of the author’s books and this no doubt is the masterpiece – so far.
   This is an introduction, not an afterword, so this is all I’ll tell you in specific. You’re in for a great ride. You’ll learn things and you’ll question things. You will have emotional reaction and there is no more that you can ask of a writer.
   But now for full disclosure. I know Terrill Lee Lankford. To act as though I am some sort of objective observer of the written word would be false. I have palled around Hollywood and L.A. with him for more than fifteen years. We’ve been in movie studios together, police stations, bookstores – I once missed a chance to visit a crack house with him. (Research, of course.)
   We have even been in each other’s books – me in this one, Lankford in The Lincoln Lawyer. His “character” even made the jump to the screen with the movie adaptation earlier this year. But what drew us together many years ago and what still binds us as friends and colleagues now is the City of Angels and it’s so-hard-to-grasp ethos. It’s a love/hate thing from the writer’s perspective. Who wouldn’t want to write about L.A.? There are so many ways to live and so many ways to die. It is cultural mecca and meltdown, autopia and dystopia, it is contradiction after contradiction. It is palm trees in the desert and, believe me, all of this is pretty goddamn hard to get right on the page. I have always called Lankford the most cynical man I know. Read this book and you may agree. But in reassessing this book now so many years after reading it the first time, I have to add that he may be the most honest writer I know. In this book he proves it. He captures in these pages the real L.A. He goes beyond the mirage to the dark heart that beats beneath it.
   Let me spoil one paragraph by leaving you with this little cut from the book. Once again, Lankford says all that needs to be said.

We turned left on Hollywood Boulevard and I surveyed the ruins. Actually, it was hard to tell the difference from the way the Boulevard had looked before the quake. There was a little more yellow crime scene tape apparent, a few more broken windows dotted the landscape, and a couple of the buildings had been red tagged, but Hollywood Boulevard had been a disaster area for years.

   So too, then, has been the larger, more mythical place called Hollywood. It’s now time for the expert guide’s private tour.

-- Michael Connelly 

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