Johnconnollycrop First, Peter Robinson, author of the Chief Inspector Banks novels, came calling in 2005 and ended up setting his subsequent bestseller, A Piece Of My Heart, in and around the MOJO offices. Next, Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo revealed that his boozy detective, Harry Hole, was a MOJO subscriber. And last week John Connolly, best-selling Dublin-born author of the Charlie Parker detective novels popped in – to discuss his new book, The Unquiet, which comes with a free CD of music referenced in his novels: Midlake, Low, The Delgados, Espers and Sufjan Stephens – and explain to Andrew Male why crime writers have such a good taste in music (and music magazines).

Why do you think music plays such a big role in crime fiction?
John Connolly: In terms of contemporary writers like George Pelecanos, Michael Connolly and Mark Billingham it’s a reflection of a generation that grew up with music as easily transportable. Gradually you see people being able to soundtrack their lives in a way they previously couldn’t, so it’s not a big step for people to incorporate that in their books. But lots of crime fiction is tied in with place, period, culture. Even if you go back to Raymond Chandler there are references to the bands of the day, there’s always stuff going on in the background. Crime fiction is very conscious of time and place but it’s interesting that it’s only the men. Ian Rankin did a programme for the BBC about a year ago about crime writers and music and he really struggled with women because women didn’t use music in their books in the same way, Men define themselves by music much more. I’m tempted to say it’s a geeky thing.

Do you judge a person by their book and record collections?
I do. Judging people by their books and records is actually not a bad way to pick up on what makes them tick. It says something about the way they look at the world. It’s a reflection of something in your self.

You regularly quote band lyrics and songs in your books. What is the reason for that?
I tend to pick lyrics that will reflect something of the action. The songs are chosen very carefully and also a lyrical reference will sometimes explain something about a character in a very subtle way. It’s a reflection of me. Books and music are the two things I don’t consider to be vices.

Hardback US copies of your 2005 novel, The Black Angel (and signed copies of the UK edition) came free with a CD featuring music referenced in your novels. You’ve just put out Volume II with hardback copies of The Unquiet. Why? 
Well, it’s difficult to seamlessly incorporate music into the novels so the CD was a way of saying, Here’s the records, go and check them out. What I love is that people would come up to me and say I went out and bought a Go-Betweens album after hearing them on your CD. You feel like you’ve done some good in the world. Charlie Parker’s tastes are the same as mine, all over the place, and the CDs are a reflection of that. I couldn’t have him listening to something like Michael Bolton.

Does music help you write?
I don’t listen to music when I write but I have used music when I’ve been in trouble with a book. The music works like a trailer for the book in my head. I was listening to that Nickel Creek song, When In Rome when I was working on The Unquiet and that’s why that lyric [“Where can a dead man go/a question with an answer only dead men know”] was chosen as a preface. It kind of encapsulated the feel of the book.

Are there artists who you keep coming back to?
Sometimes it’s quite surprising. When we did the first CD we had to leave off Sunflower by Low and they had this new album coming out, Drums And Guns, and there were literally five tracks that were going in the same direction as the book, like they were soundtracking the thing. It was fascinating to listen to. I’m also a huge Mark Kozelek fan and I’ll go back to Red House Painters albums and feel there’s someone with my sensibility and there’s a line where it blurs a little. It’s always music with a slightly mournful sensibility.

When can we expect to see the Charlie Parker novels adapted for TV or Hollywood?
I’ve been very protective of the Parker books. I think crime fiction is quite hard to get right for the screen because so much of it is introspective. Of course, if Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch or Tim Burton called up and they had George Clooney penciled in, maybe.

Have you thought about who would play Parker?
No. I’ve never described him, I’ve no idea what he looks like. I just know he’s taller than me. Those descriptions rarely work. There’s that famous example in The Da Vinci Code: “He looked like Harrison Ford in tweeds”! A little part of you dies when you read that.

Terrible question: if the Charlie Parker books were a band, who would they be?
Dear sweet god! They’d probably be The Red House Painters. With a touch of The Triffids in there as well.

The Unquiet, complete with free ‘soundtrack’ CD is out now in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99. For more information go to www.johnconnollybooks.com

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 03:36PM | Categories: Interviews, News