Question: “Eight bullets, eight dragons. And then there would be him. Bosch would be the ninth dragon, as unstoppable as a bullet.” Where does the title Nine Dragons come from?
Michael Connelly: Hong Kong has many sections. One of the biggest is called Kowloon, which means “Nine Dragons.” It comes from a legend. During one of the old dynasties the emperor was chased by the Mongols into the area that is now Hong Kong. He saw the eight mountain peaks that surrounded the area and protected him and wanted to call the place Eight Dragons. But one of his guards reminded him that the emperor was a dragon too. So they called it Kowloon, meaning nine dragons. I was told this story by a researcher who was showing me around Hong Kong the first time I visited. I loved the story and immediately started thinking of using Nine Dragons as a title. This dictated that a lot of the Hong Kong portion of the story take place in Kowloon, including the most significant moment of the whole novel.
Q: What inspired you to write Nine Dragons and to set a third of the book in Hong Kong?
MC: Nine Dragons is a book long in the making. It is a pivotal story in Harry Bosch’s journey — and his most personal one. While I think it is a book with more action than usual for me, it is also a deeply driven character story for which the inspiration was set about seven years ago when I was writing the novel Lost Light (2003). I think with a series you have to be very careful with what you do with your character. Harry Bosch is built to be of and about L.A. So I have to be careful about taking him out of this environment. Usually when I do, it is never for a whole book. I have him follow a case to Mexico and back. Or to Las Vegas or Florida. Nine Dragons starts in Los Angeles, goes to Hong Kong, and then comes back to Los Angeles. Sending him to Hong Kong came out of me wanting to do that again but to really put him in a fish-out-of-water situation. So I planted the seed five or six books ago when I had Harry’s young daughter move there with his ex-wife. When I did that, I knew that I would eventually write a story that would take Harry there and give me the opportunity to explore the character in completely different terrain. So the book has been sort of waiting to be written. In writing, you rely on your instincts in terms of what to do and when to do it. Somehow, I felt it was time to write this story now.
Q: Did you actually spend time in Hong Kong researching the book?
MC: About five years ago I stopped in Hong Kong on my way home from a book tour in Australia. I immediately found what I was looking for: an intriguing new place with a sense that anything could happen. So I’ve made two trips to Hong Kong to research Nine Dragons. One was a general knowledge trip. I then refined what I was looking for, had a general sense of the areas the story would take me through, and I went back to more specifically research the story, to more or less follow the trail Harry follows in the book. As it turns out, only about a third of the book is set in Hong Kong, and that segment takes place in one day. There is a lot of movement and action. Like Hong Kong itself, it never slows down.
Q: Why did you wait so long to explore Harry Bosch’s relationship with his daughter Madeline?
MC: In Lost Light, Harry got the surprise of his life. He found out he was a father and met his daughter, Madeline, for the first time. Over the years and stories that followed their meeting, Harry’s relationship with his daughter never moved to the forefront because I wasn’t ready to explore it yet. I wanted her to grow up some and be a character who could communicate with Harry (and the reader) as a young adult before I wrote the story that explored the relationship and what is Harry’s ultimate vulnerability.
Q: Are you saying in this book that being a father is Harry’s greatest vulnerability?
MC: Nine Dragons is about Harry and his daughter. It’s about his hopes for her, his guilt over his poor performance as a father, and most of all it is about his vulnerability as a father. Putting this young person in Harry’s life was done with a lot of thought. Up until Bosch became a father, I had been creating a character who viewed himself as being on a mission. He was someone who was skilled enough and tough enough to go into the abyss and seek out human evil. To carry out this mission, he knew he had to be relentless and bulletproof. By bulletproof, I mean he had to be invulnerable. Nobody could get to him. It was the only way to be relentless. And this idea or belief bled into all aspects of his life. He lived alone, had no friends, and didn’t even know his neighbors. He built a solitary life so that no one could get to him. All that suddenly changed in one moment (one page) when he locked eyes with his daughter in Lost Light. Harry suddenly knew he could be gotten to.
Q: Nine Dragons opens with Bosch investigating the murder of the owner of Fortune Liquors, a small L.A. package store he’s known for years. He still carries in his pocket a matchbook he picked up there on a case years ago. Its motto inside — Happy is the man who finds refuge in himself — has been a guiding light through some of his darkest days. How did you come up with this “fortune” and is it significant thematically to the novel?
MC: What’s weird is that I can’t remember where that came from. I think it was an actual fortune I received in a Chinese fortune cookie and it sort of spoke to me and so I used it in Angels Flight, which is the book in which Harry first visits Fortune Liquors. So that’s going back more than a decade and I can’t remember the origin. But what I do remember is that I thought it sounded almost like an anthem for a loner like Harry. As somebody who feels he’s on a solitary mission in life, this bromide or whatever you want to call it would speak to him and keep him on the path. I think he finds refuge in himself by believing in the cause and remaining relentlessly in pursuit of it. By believing that everybody should count or nobody should count. By believing that no one need know about his mission as long as he believes in it himself. I think that it is not only thematic to this book but to all of the Bosch books.
Q: Do you think readers in Hong Kong will enjoy riding with Harry Bosch through their city?
MC: I don’t know. I think they might see a part of their city they haven’t seen before. The nature of a crime novel is to explore all areas of a city, good and bad. In this story Harry is on a mission that literally takes him from the highest vistas of the city to some its darkest corners. I think Hong Kong is a vibrant and beautiful place that is full of intrigue. I hope I’ve gotten that into the book.
Q: The day that Harry Bosch visits Hong Kong the city is in the middle of something called the Festival of Hungry Ghosts. People are burning sacrifices to ancestors all over the city. Is this fiction or does this festival exist?
MC: Yes, it exists. One of the times I was in Hong Kong researching the ghost festival was going on and it was one of the things that linked this amazingly modern city with old ways and beliefs. I thought it was fascinating and something I could use in the book to sort of tilt Bosch’s world, to be a constant reminder that he was not in any sort of comfort zone.
Q: What’s next for Harry Bosch, and do you have plans for more Mickey Haller and Jack McEvoy books? Any other projects on the horizon?
MC: I think it’s safe to assume all of these characters will be back.