The Lincoln Lawyer

 , a novel by Michael Connelly

Editorial review of The Lincoln Lawyer novel

Hallie Ephron

"The Lincoln Lawyer" conjures images of Honest Abe, all gravitas and wisdom. Michael Connelly's Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Mickey Haller, has earned the sobriquet because his office is a Lincoln Town Car, chauffeured by a former client working off legal bills.

"South side drug stuff" is Haller's meat and potatoes. A smooth operator, he works all the angles - one minute he's grabbing a kickback from a bail bondsman, the next he's paying off a news photographer. It looks as if his ship is about to come in when he gets called to defend a wealthy Beverly Hills playboy accused of murdering a prostitute.

Haller has no illusions about the criminal justice system. "I didn't deal in guilt and innocence,' he quips, "because everybody was guilty. Of something." His job, he says, is to "color the proof in shades of gray." Maybe it's in the genes; Haller's father was the legendary attorney who defended notorious gangster Mickey Cohen.

So what happens when Haller realizes he may be representing a client who is completely innocent, or defending true evil? What happens when this charming con artist discovers, somewhere deep in a soul he never knew he had, a conscience?

Haller, the quintessential "bad-boy" protagonist even his two former wives like, finds himself in a lose-lose predicament with stakes raised through the roof. It's great fun to watch him wriggle and connive as the novel barrels toward a "Sting"-like ending.

Legal thrillers don't get better than this, and Connelly is at the top of his game in this departure from his usual PI/police procedural.

Gary Braver has made a career of spinning be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenarios. In "Flashback," it's a cure for Alzheimer's that works a little too well. It brings back old memories - with a vengeance.

The novel opens with any swimmer's worst nightmare. Jack Koryan is perched on Skull Rock. He's swum out to commemorate the nearby mysterious drowning, 35 years earlier, of a mother he barely remembers. The tide is rising, thunder announces an approaching storm, and as Jack gets ready to swim ashore he realizes the water is teeming with jellyfish. He has no choice but to plunge in. He survives, but the jellyfishes' toxic stings put him in a deep coma.

The novel then picks up the story of pharmacist Rene Ballard. One of her Alzheimer's patients, a resident at a nursing home, has an apparent flashback seizure and murders a CVS clerk. Ballard discovers that the patient was participating in a hush-hush clinical trial of memory-restoring miracle drug Memorine. Aside from violations of protocol - as consulting pharmacist, Ballard should have been informed - she is concerned at the drug company's eagerness to brush aside this serious "adverse event." Soon after raising the alarm, she finds herself on the receiving end of bribes, threats, and nasty tricks.

Ballard's investigation eventually leads her to Jack, who has awakened from his coma. Turns out the jellyfish toxin is the active ingredient in Memorine; and yes, he is experiencing flashback seizures.

Braver explores the dark side of clinical trials and what can happen when the fortunes of doctors and drug companies become intertwined. He creates a nightmare world, then ratchets up the terror with vividly rendered flashbacks that are not for the faint of stomach. This is a thoughtful book with an intriguing premise and a sprawling plot, pulled together with a twist at the end.

In "Tilt-A-Whirl," by Chris Grabenstein, real estate tycoon Reginald Hart (Donald Trump without the comb-over) is found shot to death early one morning in a shuttered New Jersey amusement park, sprawled in one of the ride's green plastic sea-turtle cars. His 12-year-old daughter, Ashley, is the only witness.

Enter Officer John Ceepak and his sidekick and driver, part-time summer officer Danny Boyle, who happens to be breakfasting at the nearby Pancake Palace. Ashley gives a breathless account, supplying a lucid description of the perp, and the search is on for a google-eyed drug addict who goes by the name Squeegee and leaves a trail of Timberland bootprints.

The strength of this debut novel is the two cop-protagonists. Ceepak is a larger-than-life former military policeman, just returned from Iraq, a straight arrow who quotes Bruce Springsteen, never lies, and is singularly lacking in humor (Arnold Schwarzenegger without the accent). Danny is an overgrown kid who likes being a summer cop because "chicks dig the cop cap."

Ceepak plays Holmes (he sniffs the air for "transient evidence" and analyzes tobacco residue) to Danny's Watson (he observes and narrates). A native of the summer tourist town of Sea View, Danny has ins at the local greasy spoons and no-tell motels.

Grabenstein has constructed a story that's like a Tilt-A-Whirl ride, full of unpredictable twists and turns. But an over-the-top supporting cast of stereotypical characters, including a supposedly sexually precocious 12-year-old who reads like she's 6, threatens to capsize the endeavor. Still, Grabenstein flips his cliches in surprising ways, signaling left and careening right, and there's plenty of fizz in the chemistry between the two protagonists to keep the novel and the reader spinning.

by Hallie Ephron, boston.com

Like this article? Add to del.icio.us