Little Brown, 2008, 422 pages, C$29.99 hc, ISBN 978-0-316-16629-4
With a bibliography that now numbers twenty volumes in sixteen years, it’s no accident if Michael Connelly’s got a keen understanding of what his fans are expecting from him. Given Connelly’s track record of bringing together practically all of his protagonists, it’s not much of a surprise to discover that The Brass Verdict features two of Connelly’s best-loved heroes so far: “Lincoln Lawyer” Mickey Haller and series stalwart Harry Bosch. The least surprising development, of course, is that for all of its twists and turns and limpid prose, The Brass Verdict remains solid Connelly.
After two years away from the law after the events of The Lincoln Lawyer, protagonist Haller ends his self-imposed sabbatical in less-than-ideal circumstances: An acquaintance of his has been murdered, and a past agreement between them stipulates that Haller is the legal executor who gets to take care of the cases. For Haller, who planned on slowly getting back into practice after a lengthy rehabilitation period, this comes as a shock in more ways than one, especially when he realizes that one of the thirty-one cases falling into his lap is a high-profile murder case featuring one of Hollywood’s power producers. But there’s a lot more to it. Like, for instance, finding out who murdered the lawyer with the original case load. The LAPD is on the case, and they’ve sent one of their finest agents on the case: Grizzled veteran Harry Bosch, who shares another connection with Haller.
Narrated by Haller himself, The Brass Verdict is a welcome return to the legal procedural mode last successfully seen in The Lincoln Lawyer. While Connelly’s usual perspective (via Bosch) is about police work, Haller’s an opinionated expert on law, and his digressions on the way justice is served in the real world are just as cynical as Bosch’s own handiwork. Lies, unsurprisingly, are at the heart of this novel’s thematic concerns —especially when they place Haller in a difficult position. Meanwhile, Bosch is usually somewhere in the novel’s shadows, doing his own thing.
While The Brass Verdict stands alone by itself, there’s little doubt that Connelly fans will get the most out of it: The interplay between Haller and Bosch is better if readers already know the two characters. As usual for Connelly’s crossovers, Bosch is more scary than admirable when seen from another perspective. The Brass Verdict may be the first of Connelly’s novels to turn him into a supporting character, acting away from the narrator’s perspective and letting Haller realize how callously Bosch is using him for his own purposes. The central connection between the two characters, which has been known to faithful Connelly readers for a while, comes as a bit of an anticlimax late in the novel as the narrator finds out for himself. Meanwhile in the Connellyverse, other characters make guest appearances, from Jack McEvoy’s extended cameo to a fleeting suggestion of Void Moon‘s Cassie Black (who’s overdue for a return feature engagement after being anonymously glimpsed in at least two novels so far.)
There are questions that linger, though: Isn’t it convenient that Haller is still another lawyer’s executor after two years away from the law? Isn’t it convenient that Bosch (just-as-conveniently back in active Homicide cases as of The Overlook) is too heartless to recuse himself from a case involving someone he knows? The questions aren’t as bothersome as the reasons why they spring to mind: Despite Connelly’s sure-footed prose and click plotting skills, The Brass Verdict often feels like a perfunctory effort, another crossover special with more emphasis on the high-concept log-line (“Haller meets Bosch!”) than the actual plot, which seems to end on a rather gratuitous fishtail.
But there’s no need to panic yet for Connelly fans: Even at its contrived worst, The Brass Verdict won’t disappoint anyone, and does nothing to tarnish anyone’s appreciation of the author. If nothing else, it brings to mind memories of The Narrows, which also brought together known character for a result that ended up being less than the sum of its parts. Still, even at his most routine, Connelly still manages to beat most other crime fiction writers at their own game.