Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly

I am a Michael Connelly fan. So far I have read or listened to 18 of his 21 novels, and I've loved 17 of them (I wasn't as thrilled with Chasing the Dime, a stand-alone thriller whose protagonist is just too foolish to be believed - but I still read the whole thing). The Lincoln Lawyer, published in 2005, is one of the best.

Connelly's usual protagonist, Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, isn't in The Lincoln Lawyer, though if you paid attention while reading The Black Ice (1993), you'll quickly figure out that defense attorney Mickey Haller is Bosch's half-brother. While Bosch is an orphaned, street-smart, self-taught Vietnam vet whose work is almost a vocation, Haller is a well-educated, highly paid, very slick lawyer who plays the legal game for one reason - money.

The two men have a lot in common, though. Both are involved with criminals. Both are exceptionally clever at figuring out plots and launching counterplots. Both have a little trouble hanging on to female companions and wives, and both have small daughters. In a pinch - and pinches abound in these books - both men ignore the rules and fend for themselves, even if they have to bend the truth, professional standards, and the law to do so. And both are extremely skillful, or lucky, at avoiding death.

Character is extremely important in Connelly's novels, but Connelly is also a master plotter. In The Lincoln Lawyer, Haller faces an agonizing choice. Believing that a client is a serial murderer, should he try to persuade the jury he is not guilty? If he succeeds and the man is acquitted, will more lives be in danger? If he fails and the man is condemned, or if he refuses to continue with the case, will Haller himself be at risk? And if he tells anyone about his quandary, will he be disbarred for abusing the attorney-client privilege?

An Amazon customer reviewer notes that "in real life no matter how secret the client confidence, lawyers are ethically able to access the expertise necessary to know how to respond to any dilemma in an ethically sound way. The real Mickey Haller would have picked up the phone to the Bar's hotline for an ethics opinion. That simple act would have destroyed a helluva tale." OK, but Haller - like Bosch - prefers doing things his way. Anyway, no matter what opinion he might be given by a fellow member of the Bar, he would still be in a deadly relationship with a brilliant, murderous psychopath.
And that's why this story is so compelling. It looks like there's no way out, but you know Haller is up to something. If you've read other books by Connelly, you also know that the final chapters always contain a surprise, and you suspect that this book's surprise will go well beyond Haller's scheme, whatever it may be.

If you haven't read other books by Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer is a good place to start. It stands on its own without reference to the 15 preceding books. It is a page-turner that will shorten an airplane flight or keep you from snoring in your recliner after a long day at the office. It is also a perceptive character study of a genuine sleazeball who, in the midst of the biggest crisis of his career, begins to see himself as he really is.

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