Michael Connelly's New Thriller Evokes The Turmoil Facing A Troubled Industry -- And Very Nearly Fell Prey to Some of Its Swift Changes
Monday, June 22, 2009
When Michael Connelly decided to set his 20th crime novel, "The Scarecrow," amid the wreckage of the American newspaper industry, he didn't know how much grief he was letting himself in for.
Oh, the former South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Los Angeles Times reporter knew about the bitterness and angst pervading the news business these days. He'd seen friends ejected from jobs as "reductions in force" devastated newsrooms. He knew he could build a plot around riffed cop-shop reporter Jack McEvoy -- the protagonist of his 1996 novel "The Poet" -- wanting to break one last big murder story before cleaning out his desk.
What Connelly didn't know was that he'd have to yank his novel back from his publisher not once but twice as his death-of-newspapers angle was overtaken by events.
The first disruption came late last fall, a few days after he turned in his manuscript.
In "The Poet" McEvoy works at the Rocky Mountain News, but in "The Scarecrow" he has moved on to the Los Angeles Times. On Dec. 8, the Times' corporate owner, the Tribune Co., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Get me rewrite!
The second event came at the end of February, which was almost too late for Connelly. He was in Florida, where he now lives, "at the first game of spring ball for the New York Yankees," when his sister texted from Colorado to say that McEvoy's old paper had died.
"Like most of the staffers at the Rocky Mountain News," Connelly says, he had assumed that the Rocky "was going to be in existence" when his book came out. He'd written a scene in which, after McEvoy gets laid off by the Times, a sympathetic Rocky editor offers him his old job back.
Connelly called his editor at Little, Brown. He learned that "The Scarecrow" was "locked" and about to be printed. He would have to write his fix that night and confine it to a single page. In the reworked version, instead of a job offer, McEvoy gets a depressing message on his answering machine:
"I've gotta tell you the truth, man. There's nothing out there," the voice of his newly jobless Rocky colleague informs him. "I'm just about ready to start selling cars, but all the car dealers are in the toilet, too."
It was a scary time. The book wouldn't hit the stores for 2 1/2 months.