The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly

Little Brown, 2005, 404 pages, C$36.95 hc, ISBN 0-316-73493-X

Once again, it’s time for Michael Connelly to set aside protagonist Harry Bosch in favor of another character. Such “off-Bosch” novels are often the chance for Connelly to stretch a few writing muscles and try something different. The Lincoln Lawyer stands solidly in this tradition: Not only is it narrated by a very different character, but it’s also Connelly’s first outright legal thriller. It doesn’t spend much time in the courtrooms, but it’s all about the titular Lincoln lawyer, a defense attorney who’s forced to rediscover his moral compass.

Mickey Haller may be a new narrator, but he’s not completely unknown to those who have followed the Bosch series in detail. Although fleetingly mentioned in The Black Ice as Harry Bosch’s half-brother, this connection never comes into play in this novel (and the links to the rest of the Connellyverse are so tenuous as to be invisible), so don’t expect even a cameo by Connelly’s taciturn detective.

Not that any reader will wish for anything once The Lincoln Lawyer kicks into gear. Like most of Connelly’s novels so far, this is a ferocious page-turner, a perfect piece of entertainment designed to mesmerize its audience even as it slickly delivers the expected thrills.

The beginning may be slow, but it’s definitely intriguing: As Haller struggles with the demands of life as a lawyer in urban-sprawled Los Angeles (he conducts most of his business from the back-seat of his chauffeured car, hence the title of the book), readers will get a taste for the reality of his work. As in other Connelly novels, we get a heavy dose of jargon, common attitudes and specialized knowledge: Haller’s usual clients are of modest means, and he effortlessly outlines the daily routine of a lawyer trying to do the best with what he’s got. By the time a well-off man named Louis Rouet asks for legal representation in an ugly assault case, we’re fully aware how badly Haller can use a “franchise client” who will pay steady bills for a long time.

But Haller’s enthusiasm deflates once he begins to suspect his client’s innocence: “There is no client as scary as an innocent man” is the novel’s (fictional) epitaph, and that’s because nothing short of a not-guilty plea can be acceptable for an innocent: The usual options of “fair deals” with the prosecution become unavailable to lawyers representing an innocent man, and that’s the nightmare in which Heller finds himself even as rumbles about another innocent man unjustly convicted start echoing from his past.

Typically for Connelly, there are a number of further twists and turns in the tale, which piles on the complications as it plows forward. The procedural charm of Connelly’s prose now deals with the world of defense attorneys rather than LAPD policemen, but the impact is the same. By the time the surprising ending rolls around, Haller has learned as much as the reader, and Connelly emerges from his first legal thriller with honors.

It would be very unlikely to see Haller ride off in the sunset without expecting his return in a future novel. As Bosch himself approaches retirement and Connelly seemingly can’t resist the lure of linking his series, Haller would be a welcome addition to the policeman’s life, especially if the author ends up spending time examining how both half-brothers ended up on dissimilar sides of the law. As a character debut and a first attempt at another form of crime fiction, The Lincoln Lawyer is a remarkable effort, and it promises much more.

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