Michael Connelly’s star rose to fame 18 novels ago. Over time he has written some of the best stand-alone thrillers and has made Harry Bosch a household name. In 2005 he introduced fans to a new character, attorney Mickey Haller, in the acclaimed THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Three years later, he gives us THE BRASS VERDICT, in which he brings Haller and Bosch together to work on overlapping cases. They know each other by reputation, and neither is particularly pleased to make each other’s acquaintance.
Haller is slowly recovering from an alcoholic breakdown and a stint at a rehab center, which has taken a year of his life. His practice is gone and his reputation greatly tarnished. However, he did try to see his daughter when he could and managed to hold on to his three Lincoln Continentals, which he rotates and uses as his office. He has a driver take him from appointments to court appearances so he can keep working on the car’s cushy backseat. His second ex-wife, Lorna Taylor, is his case and money manager, and prefers working at home. Her love interest is Cisco, the firm’s investigator. Despite the seemingly “incestuous” nature of their personal situation, they all like each other and work well together. Haller has more headaches with his first ex-wife over their daughter, who loves both parents but is often disappointed by her father.
When the narrative begins, Haller is consoling himself with the “one-day-at-a-time” and “step-by-step” philosophy every recovering addict must live by. He has taken on a new client, Patrick, and is confident he can “save” him. When he finds Patrick sleeping in his car in the parking garage, does he realize that this young man needs help and support? After some thought, he offers Patrick the job of being his chauffer and invites him to crash at his house until he can find a place of his own. Haller is one of those people who thinks with his heart and his gut, which is what allows him to make these kinds of decisions off the cuff.
Then, out of the blue, Lorna calls to tell him that the chief judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, Mary Townes Holder, called with a forthwith command. He is expected to make a “command appearance” behind the closed doors where the judge does most of her work.
Upon entering her chambers, Haller feels like a third grader who is sent to the principal’s office for some unknown misbehavior that could bring wrath down on his head. The judge is a forbidding woman with an icy demeanor. And, beyond the obvious, he can sense she knows something concerns him; he just can’t decide if he should worry or not. As she begins to explain her reasons for wanting to see him, he is overwhelmed by what he hears: attorney Jerry Vincent was murdered the night before. The two men knew each other, had worked together from time to time and were both well-known defense lawyers. Vincent, a former prosecutor, built a very lucrative defense practice. He had many high-flying clients, and when he died, he was defending movie mogul Walter Elliott, who is charged with killing his young wife and her lover. The case is very high profile, and everyone has been expecting fireworks to flare as the trial date approaches. Haller is a pragmatist who is attempting to rebuild his personal and professional life, but is only vaguely aware of the consequences Vincent’s demise could have on him.
Years ago he and Vincent named each other as beneficiaries of their separate private practices, if either of them was unable to follow through on cases or was dead. This is one of the reasons the judge has summoned him --- to remind him of this old agreement. Haller has inherited Vincent’s entire practice, or at least his current cases, if he can encourage the clients to maintain him as their new lawyer. He is stunned by the murder and overwhelmed by what it could mean for his recovery. But he feels up to the challenge. This is a good thing for him.
The judge is not going to make this transition easy for Haller. She talks to him as though he’s “that naughty student in the dean’s office.” After an uncomfortable barrage of her questions and his answers, she signs an order transferring the practice to him. She goes on to tell him that she expects him to “heel” so that she can keep tabs on him and get a regular report showing how he is progressing. She certainly is dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” in this deal, or so it would seem. When she wishes him luck as she dismisses him, she offers her private phone numbers if he needs her help. It’s an odd thing for her to do, but that moment passes.
Haller’s head is swimming, and he needs some time to acclimate himself to this turn of events. His first task is to tell the team and then hurry to Vincent’s office before anyone, especially the police, start to go through the files themselves. When they all walk into the private space where the files are kept, they are too late. This is when Bosch and Haller find the detective going through the files (now his files) and tells him to stop and leave. They huff and puff at each other, each claiming his territory until Bosch finally does leave.
Through a myriad of important subplots, Bosch and Haller gravitate toward each other without any more melodrama or sentimentality. Ultimately, they find a measure of common ground. Both men are authentic in their roles, and as they discover certain things about themselves and each other, they are able to face the other with honesty by the end of the book. One of the subplots takes on the whole legal system, and these two are acutely aware of how easy it can be for powerful people to subvert it. By shining a light into the dark corners of this particular legal/police procedural, Connelly once again manages to create an epic rendering of the diabolical dramatics that sometimes move like snakes through a case and settle in the courtroom.
Haller is put off immediately by the way his new client, Walter Elliott, wants to run the case. Further, his absolute confidence that he will win is disarming and raises suspicions for Haller and Bosch. For both men, who have many years of exposure to courtroom antics, “something stinks in the state of” how this case is progressing. Haller knows he has to find “the magic bullet” that does not show its face until well into the trial. Indisputably, Elliott had gunshot residue on his person and clothes, but it was only transfer particles. Nevertheless, the case moves along, and Haller, Cisco and Bosch are digging as deeply as they can to flesh out this high roller.
As with any court case, little tidbits and big chunks of information are testified to and become part of the record. This is something attorneys know, and they pay complete attention to each witness watching and listening for the “tell.” These are the tics, hesitations, sweats or any other body language a witness will unknowingly display. This is about the time Cisco brings the results of some of his investigations to Haller. Elliott is not what he appears to be; because of his bloated ego and high sense of pride, coupled with his great bankroll, he believes that his falsely created, solipsistic world is real. But is he guilty of the crime he is being tried for?
Connelly has crafted a novel that may eclipse some of his others. But that would be only because he once again shows how adept he is at controlling his prose, so that no extra word or superfluous paragraph takes up space. The tension that forces readers to turn pages as quickly as they can is generated by the plot, the characters, their personal lives, bringing his two leading characters together and the profound insights into the judicial system. Also, the totally unexpected ending feels just right. Nothing leads up to it, but it is a force that will make readers gasp.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on September 1, 2009
The Brass Verdict