Friday, October 23, 2015


THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown, 2005)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A mid-career swerve by one of modern crime writing's greats introduced a fantastic new series character in a brilliant first bow

Ten years ago, Mickey Haller strolled into crime readers' lives; a jaded defence attorney who'd learned to blatantly game the system for his clients' benefit. Operating out of the backseat of his car as he hustled from one LA courthouse to another, Haller scratched and clawed for any advantage, any edge. A low-flying suit maneuvering for petty crime paydays. Law and justice were no longer guiding lights, barely even guideposts. He seemed the antithesis of Michael Connelly's long-running hero, relentless and principled LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.

Yet, somehow, this character that on the surface would be easy to despise, was compelling, fascinating, even likable. Someone worth following as he ducked and weaved his way through a twisting legal minefield.

That's Connelly talent: he's the master craftsman of crime.

In The Lincoln Lawyer, Haller seems to have struck the jackpot when he’s hired to defend Louis Roulet, scion of a wealthy Beverley Hills family, who’s accused of a brutal assault and attempted rape. But neither Roulet nor his alleged victim are what they seem at first glance, leading to a chess match between attorney and client, and complications for one of Haller’s old cases. It's an intriguing twist on the usual 'innocent client being stitched up - can they get them off?' trope of many legal thrillers, and over the course of the novel Haller reveals himself to also have a lot more going on beneath the surface. 

The slick defence attorney has a hidden conscience, and did once love the law. Can he use the tricks he's learned along the way to find a just result in an complex situation, without losing his soul or his life? 

The Lincoln Lawyer has a terrific, gripping storyline. It's a real page-turner, an airport read with depth. Connelly's first swing at a legal thriller rather than a police procedural is an absolute home run. 

But the engine that drives it isn't the clever plotline or innovative twists; it's Haller, a truly superb creation. 

Haller in some ways is the opposite to Connelly's longtime hero, Harry Bosch. Both work in the criminal justice system, but from what could be seen to be opposing sides: Bosch catches bad guys and puts them in jail, Haller tries to keep them out of it. That's one narrative. Or, Haller is the one standing up for those facing the overwhelming power of the state, who may or may not have committed crimes, but regardless need to have a voice in what can be a lumbering criminal justice machine that has very little to do with actual justice. 

Haller, like Bosch, is a maverick - and that's part of what makes him enjoyable to follow. In fact, he's even more of a maverick than Bosch, who for all his lone wolf personality, is still working for the state. Bosch is part of the system, fighting it from the inside while seeking to uphold it. Haller fights it from a more perilous position, and a more maligned one. He's a slick shyster representing scumbags, right? 

That's one of the things that makes Mickey Haller so fascinating. He's even more out on a ledge, but also self-aware. He's had his delusions about the law broken, and we witness that loss in the first-person narration. Parts of The Lincoln Lawyer are almost confessional. The cynical attorney knows he's lost his love for the law, and had his principles and ideals corrupted by working in a sputtering and rusty system. 

Somewhere deep down, Haller still wants to find a reason to believe. In the law, and himself. It's that journey he takes in The Lincoln Lawyer that elevates the book, and subsequent sequels, to something special. 

Not that The Lincoln Lawyer is all about inner conflict. There’s plenty of external drama as Haller faces up against the prosecution and his own client; lots happening on and off the page. Overall, Connelly delivers a legal thriller with depth, layering in vividly depicted characters and settings, and touching on contemporary issues, in among his exciting storyline; giving us some things to think about, while you’re enjoying the ride. 

A modern classic. 

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