The Lincoln Lawyer

 , a novel by Michael Connelly

Editorial review of The Lincoln Lawyer novel

Chicago Sun-Times

After 15 highly regarded novels, in which the protagonists generally were assigned the white cowboy hats, reporter-turned-novelist Michael Connelly has invented a character who works the other side of the legal fence and would find a black Stetson a better fit. Indeed, criminal attorney Mickey Haller has attained success defending just the kind of vermin Harry Bosch, Terry McCaleb and Kizmin Rider wouldn't hesitate killing if they resisted arrest and the situation called for swift and extreme justice.

Haller, like many other criminal defense lawyers based in Los Angeles County, works a circuit of far-flung courtrooms that often requires hundreds of miles of travel each day. He goes through Lincoln Town Cars so quickly that he recently bought three at the same time.

To accomplish such a feat, Haller employs a former client - who wouldn't otherwise be able to pay off his legal fees - to chauffeur him around the county, while he returns phone calls and prepares for the next hearing. When the sanctity of the lawyer-client relationship needs preserving, Haller instructs his driver to don headphones and turn up the volume on his iPod. For all intents and purposes, the back seat of the Town Car is his office, although he still depends on one of his two ex-wives to screen potential clients and make sure the books are kept (the other is a prosecutor).

Haller is a mercenary, and the vast majority of his clients pay dearly for his ability to get them off on technicalities and other legal chicanery. Since most are guilty - to some degree, at least - of the crimes they're accused of committing, it's money well spent.

Not that Haller would mind having his name used as the punch-line for a thousand shady-lawyer jokes. Word of mouth pays the bills and keeps the tank of his Lincoln filled to overflowing. After years of such dubious achievement, however. Haller suddenly is becoming afraid he "wouldn't be able to recognize innocence," even if it stood in front of the path of his Town Car.

"After fifteen years of practicing law, I had come to think of it in very simple terms. The law was a large, rusting machine that sucked up people and lives and money. I was just a mechanic. I had become expert at going into the machine and fixing things and extracting what I needed from it in return.

"There was nothing about the law that I cherished anymore. The law school notions about the virtue of the adversarial system, of the system's checks and balances, of the search for truth had long since eroded like the faces of statues from other civilizations. The law was not about truth. It was about negotiation, amelioration, manipulation. I didn't deal in guilt and innocence because everybody was guilty. Of something. But it didn't matter because every case I took on was a house built on a foundation poured by overworked and underpaid laborers. They cut corners. They made mistakes. And then they painted over the mistakes with lies. My job was to peel away the paint and find the cracks. To work my fingers and tools into those cracks and widen them. To make them so big that either the house fell down or, failing that, my client slipped through.

"Much of society thought of me as the devil but they were wrong. I was a greasy angel. I was the true road saint. I was needed and wanted. By both sides. I was the oil in the machine. I allowed the gears to crank and turn. I helped keep the engine of the system running."

It would be hard to construct a more succinct summation of a cynic's view of the American legal apparatus than that. But Connelly uses it as jumping-off point for a story in which ethically blind lawyers lead a famously blind justice system through a maze of misplaced values, all in the service of morally blind clients and politicians blinded by power.

By comparison, the case that brings all of these disparate elements together is simplicity itself: a Beverly Hills real-estate agent, Louis Roulet, has been accused of attempting to rape and murder a woman he picked up in a bar. Prosecutors will try to convince a jury that Roulet went to the woman's apartment with the sole purpose of committing such an atrocity, while Haller will argue that his client was being set up by a prostitute less interested in a guilty verdict than the settlement in a civil suit that might come with it.

After that, things get really complicated.

Only the most observant of Connelly loyalists are likely to recall that Haller and Harry Bosch have something in common, which may pay literary dividends in the future. In Connelly's second novel, The Black Ice, the hard-boiled police detective recalls how he discovered that his father was a famous attorney, J. Michael Haller. This makes him a half-brother to Mickey Haller, and, given their divergent views on the law, a possible rival in novels to come.

I, for one, can't wait.

by Gary Dretzka, Chicago Sun-Times

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