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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 06, 2006

Michael Connelly's New Franchise

It seems like only yesterday that I was briefly reviewiing Michael Connelly's most recent Harry Bosch novel, The Closers, but here we are again with another new Connelly, and this one looks like it's going to be, to use lead character Mickey Haller's phrase, a franchise.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a bit of a departure for Connelly, who has mainly published police procedurals. We're still dealing with procedures here, but now we're on the other side of the courtroom aisle, with a defence attorney legal thriller. This is Grisham territory, of course, but I'm mainly familiar with Kate Wilhelm's Barbara Holloway novels.

Wilhelm's Oregon-based Holloway is an idealist, who defends the innocent against the System. She plays to her reader's fantasies about being falsely accused and proving their innocence (and exposing the real bad guy) in court. Connelly has gone for something different: a lead character who fits the description of (and even describes himself as) a sleazy defense lawyer ('scuse American spelling). He doesn't even have an office as such, but drives around in a $50,000 (I'm assuming long wheelbase) Lincoln Town Car (one of 4 he bought on a fleet deal) with a former client working off his fee as his driver.

Mickey Haller is the kind of lawyer Bosch hates, whom all cops hate, because he wheels and deals and sleazes his way through case after case, getting wrong 'uns off on the proverbial technicalities. This is ironic because Connelly cleverly (and subtly) lets you know that Bosch and Haller share a father.

Both Haller and Connelly know that the system needs "sleazy" defence lawyers, because everyone has a right to a fair trial and due process. And due process and fairness are sometimes absent from police investigations; hence the existence of the technnicalities Haller uses to set his guilty clients free.

Haller's not rich, even though he has $200,000 worth of Town Car in his garage and a million dollar house. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, with clients who sometimes pay cash, sometimes have to work off their fee, and sometimes can't pay at all. Which is why he's cautiously excited about a new client: a rich man accused of murder who could turn out to be a "franchise", the client who can pay and pay and pay.

This is excellent stuff, full of procedural detail, which builds and builds to a gripping conclusion. It's written in an understated but clearly descriptive style, and you can smell the film that even now must be in pre-production (I kept picturing Joe Pesci in the part, but that's probably because of My Cousin Vinnie). Connelly is on the top of his form, and you have to admire the amount of research he must have done to fully understand the world of the Lincoln Lawyer, and the court system - all based on a chance encounter at a ball game, several years ago.

Haller is a wily, but sympathetic character, who is completely open about some of the sleazier actions he takes (like paying a freelance cameraman to turn up at court, so that his client fears publicity) in order to enhance his reputation. Now that Bosch is lingering on past his retirement age (in The Closers he was back from retirement to work cold cases), Connelly needed this to work, and it does.

We're bound to see more of Mickey Haller, and I hope Connelly keeps knocking them out. The Haller-Meets-Bosch sequel is surely not far away?


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