The Lincoln Lawyer

 , a novel by Michael Connelly

Editorial review of The Lincoln Lawyer novel

The New York Times

Harry Bosch is the hard-boiled, world-weary cop at the center of many of Michael Connelly's crime novels. He is tough, brooding and dogged, an appealing noir character. So Harry has always looked like a hard act to follow. He'll look that way until "The Lincoln Lawyer" introduces the bottom-feeding attorney Mickey Haller to Connelly's devotees.

Harry Bosch has high standards. Mickey Haller's morals are less exalted. Mickey makes himself instantly memorable for explaining how he advertises his services on bus benches in high-crime areas and bribes bail bondsmen at Christmas, sending out cans of Planters holiday nut mix actually filled with cash. Then he eats the leftover nuts out of Tupperware for a couple of months. "Since my last divorce," he explains, this is "sometimes all I get for dinner."

Mickey blows into "The Lincoln Lawyer" courtesy of an opening paragraph that's a genre classic. He is describing the fresh, clean atmosphere that will soon be totally absent from this story. "When it starts blowing in like that," he says of the Mojave winter breeze, "I like to keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The bondsman, not the baseball pitcher. He called me as I was coming into Lancaster for a 9 o'clock calendar call. He must have heard the wind whistling in my cell phone."

The book sustains that momentum as Valenzuela alerts Mickey to a big score: a Beverly Hills client picked up for assault and attempted rape. The guy may be repugnant, but he sounds like a client whose case can be prolonged in ways highly beneficial to his lawyer. Mickey refers to this kind of client as a franchise. He ought to know. He's as hot a franchise as any mystery writer could hope for.

Mickey's advertisements in the Yellow Pages used to read "Any Case, Anytime, Anywhere." But he had to change that because his territory is so full of crime. You could fill the Rose Bowl twice a year with potential clients, he reasons. ("The thing to remember is that you don't want clients from the cheap seats. You want the ones sitting on the 50-yard line.") And if those clients are as unsavory as they are well heeled, so much the better. Soon Mickey is defending a man he dislikes while artfully manipulating the case for his own reasons.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" had its start at a Dodgers game. Connelly ran into a lawyer there and got wind of some of the realities of the profession. It's clear that his skills as a journalist came into play, in a novel that describes the way court-appointed lawyers - the ones paid by what the book calls "Uncle Sugar" - meet at the ballpark to compare notes and insights into how a tough judge squelches the lawyers' grandstanding. Connelly did some research with a judge who allowed him access to her courtroom and clearly taught him the rules of the game.

The book's grounding in legal realities also involves the acquittal of the actor Robert Blake and the chilling effect of this verdict on prosecutors. By the book's end, Mickey has fully exploited the fact that prosecutors are terrified of such embarrassments and will do anything to avoid them. The book also pits Mickey against a new young by-the-numbers lawyer who is no match for a schemer with Mickey's acumen. "He froze, unsure how to proceed," Connelly writes, after the kid has stepped into one of Mickey's traps. "He didn't want to raise his foot for fear that the mine would detonate and blow it off."

"The Lincoln Lawyer" has a wonderful title. It not only refers sardonically to Mickey's lost ideals but also describes his way of getting around town. Always hustling, he has bought four Lincolns in bulk and keeps two in storage. The one he favors has a vanity plate reading "NT GLTY."

He is chauffeured by a former crack dealer, Earl, an ex-client who owes Mickey money and is working off the debt. Of course Mickey is too cagey to let Earl know where he lives.

The book is haunted by Mickey's worst nightmare: the thought of having to defend an innocent man. By the end of the story an Honest Abe conscience has begun to kick in. That's when Mickey becomes a Connelly character through and through.

by Janet Maslin, The New York Times

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