Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch series, spoke about his career and this protagonist in particular, at ThrillerFest earlier this year. He wanted to give the character a “music identity.” Most of the music mentioned in the books is jazz, with some surprises thrown in – like “Help Me Rhonda,” by the Beach Boys – but mostly think jazz for this detective.
In DEAD MEN DON’T DECORATE, Camille Benson loves 70’s rock. I namedrop a lot of songs and bands in the book. She listens to “White Room” by Cream turned way up to relax. Why? Because I want readers to get her. We baby boomers love our music! And she’s cool. Very cool.
In the Pet Palace Mystery series my protagonist, Sue Patrick, is a huge Elvis fan. Sometimes her knowledge of Elvis trivia helps her solve cases. In STAY CALM AND COLLIE ON, she sees the crime scene team picking grit out of the tires on the van where the victim was found, and realizes it was gravel, not sand, on the tires. She thinks of the Elvis song, “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road!” The van hadn’t been parked at the beach; it had been parked at Roosevelt Inlet, where the surface is gravel rather than sand. In SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PUG, the pet spa’s co-owner, Lady Anthea Fitzwalter, uses her depth of knowledge about opera to clarify her thinking.
Does your protagonist need to be associated to a music genre? Not necessarily, but only you, the author, can decide. In The Big Picture art thriller series music is rarely mentioned, but I still use the characters’ music choices. Here’s one of the few instances:

“Do you mind if I turn this off?” Graham asked, before he reached for the car radio.
“Not at all. Haydn is just so Haydn.”

See how I used music to show how these two characters are on the same wavelength? Another way to use music to describe your character is with what songs/artists she knows and which she has never even heard of.

Please let me know below if your protagonist has a music ID. Just for fun, which version of this song would she/he prefer?

  1. Tommy James and the Shondells
  2. Tiffany
  3. 45RPM60S



  1. This is great, Lane. My protagonist would like the Tiffany version. But I like the Tommy James one.

  2. I like most kinds of music–opera, folk, country, etc., as long as its not too raucous but other than opera it’s always background for me.
    That said, in one of my romances a character loves Aretha, Marvin Gaye and artists of that era and the music figures into the story. And two of the Corelli mysteries have characters who are popular singers but both are my creation and no songs are mentioned.

  3. Oh, I always think of what my characters listen to. In the Sylvan novels my detective listens to fairly generic rock (because music is background for her, not a major part of her life), but her musician son goes all over the place with everything from Chopin to Yellowman to DeadMau5. I wanted to show the cognitive divide between them. It’s subtle, and I don’t call it out, but it’s there. In one of my short stories, my character’s identity as a metal fan is important because a concert is where he met the love of his life, and the music binds them. At one crucial, and possibly deadly, moment, he listens to Rob Zombie.

    1. It depends on what sub-genre I’m writing. For romantic suspense, I favor classics like “1st Time Ever I saw your Face”, or “I will always love you”. Anything by the fabulous Michael McDonald also moves me. (ooh, that man’s voice is dreamy). Cozy mystery doesn’t always inspire music for me, and traditional mystery demands something strident (think the Animals, House of the Rising Sun).

  4. Trudy Genova is an Anglophile so she would like 45 RPMs version. While I remember the Shondells version–dating myself here–I like that one, too! Trudy has love of the American Songbook and classical, too, but if fond of Adele, Ed Sheeran, etc.

    I think musical choices can enrich a character. The lovely Peter Robinson gave us many of Inspt. Banks choices over the course of that series. Ian Rankin gives us Rebus’s completely different music!

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