Michael Connelly is best known for his breakout novel THE POET and
his hard-driving police procedurals starring Harry Bosch. But the
latest addition to his ever-growing body of work is neither a
police procedural nor a classic psychological thriller. Rather, it
is a departure that introduces a whole new venue: a legal suspense
tale titled THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Here he introduces readers to
Michael "Mickey" Haller, a defense attorney who is always looking
for the "franchise client" who will change his life. "A franchise
client is a defendant who wants to go to trial and has the money to
pay his lawyer's…rates. From first appearance to arraignment
to preliminary hearing and on to trial and then appeal, [this kind
of] client demands hundreds if not thousands of billable hours.
From where [Mick sat] they are the rarest and most highly sought
beast[s] in the jungle."
Mickey Haller is a cynic with a philosopher's approach to life.
"After fifteen years of practicing law [he] had come to think of it
in simple terms. The law was a large, rusting machine that sucked
up people and lives and money." Of himself he says, "I [am] just a
mechanic. There is nothing about the law [he] cherished anymore.
The law [is] not about truth. It [is] about negotiation,
amelioration, manipulation." He continues in this mode by stating,
"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."
As the novel opens Haller receives a call from Fernando Valenzuela,
a bail bondsman he has worked with for years. Together they are
waiting for that franchise client to drop into their laps. "I got
something. I think I got a franchise player here." The "something"
is Louis Ross Roulet, arrested for what seems to be a bar pick-up
turned deadly. "Guy's gotta be big money. Beverly Hills address,
family lawyer waltzing in here first thing. This is the real thing,
Mick. They booked him on a half mil and his mother's lawyer came in
here today ready to sign over property…didn't even ask to get
[the bail] lowered."
Haller agrees to interview the fellow in his holding cell at the
jail, but he is too streetwise and savvy to even begin to think
that this one is the case at the end of his financial
rainbow. When he finally has the opportunity to meet this would-be
client, Haller thinks, "Most of the time my clients have been in
lockup before and they have the stone-cold look of the predator.
It's how they get in jail. But Roulet was different. He looked like
prey. He was scared and he didn't care who saw it and knew
One of the hardest stumbling blocks to a good defense is talk,
jabber, chatter, sentences and paragraphs that all consist of
words. Haller opines, "Most of my clients talk way too much.
Usually they talk themselves right into prison." After admonishing
Roulet to keep his mouth shut, Haller leaves his new client in the
holding tank and enters the courtroom. Valenzuela has already
warned him that Maggie McPherson, aka Maggie "McFierce," has been
assigned to this case. She is "one of the toughest
and…fiercest assistant district attorneys assigned to the Van
Nuys courthouse. She also happened to be [his] first ex-wife" and
the mother of his only child. She is not happy to see him. His
presence here means she has to recuse herself from any
participation in the Roulet matter, which could have been a career
maker for her. But she gives the case up with good grace and still
maintains her close friendship with her ex-husband.
The overriding nightmare that haunts Mickey Haller is the
possibility that he might not recognize an innocent man if he is
ever called to defend him. As the case moves forward and he gets to
know his client, he admits, "I felt uneasy about Roulet's story. It
seemed so far-fetched that it might actually be true. And that
bothered me. I was always worried that I might not recognize
innocence. The possibility of it in my job was so rare that I
operated with the fear that I wouldn't be ready for it when it
came. That I would miss it." Later in the narrative he berates
himself for not being able to recognize evil when it stares him in
This conflict between good and evil is what drives the mystery
writer. Without these two concepts they would have nothing to write
about. And Michael Connelly is a master at grasping his characters'
angst in regard to "good" vs. "evil," which provides readers with
just the right amount of suspense. Here he shows his talent as a
master choreographer of the dance that lawyers perform regardless
of which side of the courtroom they inhabit. His books are
brilliantly constructed, the writing is strong and lucid, his plots
have enough twists and turns to satisfy the most ardent reader, and
his characters are always easy to recognize. He never writes down
to his audience or takes them for granted.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a courageous book in that it catapults
Connelly out of the boundaries set by a series. Harry Bosch is a
formidable and unforgettable character. He may be missed on this
outing, but he is a staple in the top-notch procedurals that
Connelly writes and will surely be back. In the meantime, this new
novel will not disappoint those familiar with Michael Connelly or
those new to his work.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 11, 2011