Book 39: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly, isbn 9780446616451, 516 pages, Grand Central Publishing, $7.99
The Premise: (from the back cover) "For defense lawyer Mickey Haller, the clock is always running. With two ex-wives, four Lincoln Town Cars that he uses as offices, and dozens of guilty clients, he can't afford to miss a trick. When he gets picked by a Beverly Hills rich boy arrested for assault, Mickey sees a franchise case: a nice, long, expensive trial with maximum billable hours -- until it hurtles him into the last place he wants to be. Suddenly hustling, cynical Mickey Haller is confronted with pure evil and someone may be truly innocent. Now, for a lawyer who has always gone for the easy score, getting justice means taking the deadliest risk of all."
My Rating: 4 stars
My Thoughts: I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It was the June pick for our office book club, and I honestly didn't know what I'd make of it. I like detective and crime fiction, but courtroom dramas are not usually my thing. Still, I found myself pulled into the plot fairly quickly, and the courtroom scenes, when they did come in the second half of the book, were not nearly as tedious as I'd expected. Connelly keeps the action moving at a fair clip and doesn't let long lawyer-speech drag the action down. In fact, he goes out of his way to mock long, rambling speeches in front of the jury, which made me smile.
Character-wise, Mickey Haller is saddled with more than enough personal foibles. He's got two ex-wives both of whom are connected to his professional life, a young child he doesn't see often enough, and a mortgage he can barely meet. Most of his clients are guilty of what they've been accused of and it's Mickey's job to get them off on technicalities; most of the cops he encounters openly dislike or out-and-out hate him because he is the epitome of a slimy defense lawyer. And yet, there's also something endearing about Mickey -- as much as I wanted to dislike him, I just can't. Almost from the beginning of the book, you can tell there's a bit of a "heart of gold" underneath all that lawyerly slime. And it perhaps helps that most of the prosecution attorneys he meets are just as slimy as the cops think Mickey is; he definitely comes across as the lesser of two evils. He's also got daddy-issues that are not deeply explored in this book but are mentioned enough times that you know it's a character point Connelly intends to explore further in later books.
Plot-wise, Connelly paces the story out very well. Again, what could have been a drawback (long speeches in court) Connelly plays to his main character's advantage, at once utlilizing the conventions of the genre and tweaking his nose at them. It's the fast pace that makes even the most predictable twists in the plot (and there are one or two moments that you can see coming a mile away, although the big final twist did take me by surprise) palatable. The feel of the book is very cinematic -- fast cuts, no scenes that are there just for padding. Even the most trivial of scenes ties into the whole somehow; nothing is there "just for character development" or "just in case this becomes a book series." Every character mentioned has a role to play towards the greater plot, too. Some, granted, are peripheral but none are extraneous. All of this helps sweep the reader along.
The only thing that really pulled me out of the story was the stylized manner of speech for Mickey and most of the main characters. I'm hard-pressed to find anyone in the book who speaks in contractions, and that sort of stylization in a story set in modern times always feels forced to me. I can accept it easier from the young female lead of True Grit than I can from a lawyer in a contemporary courtroom thriller. It's a personal thing, to be sure. I've been informed by a friend who knows a lot of defense lawyers that most defense lawyers speak without contractions whether they're in court or not-- precision of language very quickly becomes ingrained, is the way my friend worded it. As true to life as that may be, it still felt a bit jarring the times I noticed it. But that's really my only complaint. The book is overall a fun read. I'm not sure I'll be running out to read the rest of the Mickey Haller books, but again, that's largely because I'm not a usual reader of courtroom thrillers.