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An O J Simpson kind of murder,
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This review is from: The Brass Verdict (Paperback)
Mickey Haller is a 42-year-old Los Angeles defence attorney on his way back to the bar after about two years of physical recovery and rehabilitation. He is aided in no small way by the violent and brutal death of Jerry Vincent, another lawyer who had expressed a written wish that all of his active clients be passed on to Haller in the event of his death. Of the thirty-one in need of defence there are none bigger than Hollywood movie mogul Walter Elliot, accused of shooting and killing his wife and her male friend in the Elliot household some six months earlier, minutes before he called 9-1-1 from the murder scene. Haller has less than two weeks to prepare for trial because the defendant is anxious to proceed at that time and absolutely unwilling to delay proceedings. Meanwhile LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is investigating the recent murder of Jerry Vincent.
Expectations will be sky-high for this one, because not only does it represent the sequel to one of Connelly's most successful and widely-praised novels THE LINCOLN LAWYER, it even manages to include one of crime-fiction's best-loved characters too - the venerable Harry Bosch, although he plays a rather lower-profile role here than I had hoped or expected. It's very much a Haller story, told throughout from a first-person perspective. And although it's very good, hard to fault in truth, it's not quite as good as its one predecessor. I think my reason for saying that is because it's actually rather similar; Haller's personal life is much the same as it was, he's still just as brilliant in the courtroom, and despite representing a highly dislikeable character (as Louis Ross Roulet was in the previous Haller tale) and being capable of successfully defending people who seem to be guilty of their alleged crimes, he's still an attractive personality both within the context of the story and from the perspective of the reader. The only significant difference this time round is that while Haller still has a Lincoln - three identical ones actually - he now has a proper office, inherited from the late Jerry Vincent.
One of the frustrating elements to courtroom stories such as this is that they often begin after the crime has been committed and the central 'bad guy' is assumed to be guilty (or not guilty) from the outset, so the main unknown tends to be the verdict of the jury. This is the second half of a criminal investigation, the first half being the police and detective work that brings the suspect to trial. Thankfully it's a lot more interesting due to some really fascinating insights into the world of jury selection, a little bit depressing too when you think of the lengths that defence lawyers will go to in order to manipulate the system (at least, that in the USA) in order to get as many jurors likely to be sympathetic to, or at least open-minded enough for, a vote of not guilty to someone who may in fact be guilty. That's a little worrying if it represents real life, and from an early stage of this novel I kept on thinking of the trial (and the crime) of OJ Simpson in Los Angeles in 1995, a landmark event that I know shaped Connelly's attitude towards the American justice system. So whereas the Bosch novels tend to be all about Bosch with a story wrapped around him, with Haller it's the other way round in that the story takes precedence over him. All credit to the author for having the ability to write in such different ways, which we are reminded of on the few occasions that Haller and Harry Bosch meet; as soon as Bosch speaks, he increases the reader's pulse rate slightly, and I think this would be the case even for those reading Connelly for the first time. Bosch comes over as dark and dangerous, and it's an amusing experience to read the impressions he makes on Haller and the opinions expressed given that the sometimes negative words come from the same pen, from the creator of both characters.
One element of the tale that Connelly is right to address, I believe, is the ethics behind defending the guilty. It came late on in the novel but it was a relief when it came. Until that point it had been an issue that I can imagine many readers struggling to come to terms with, that a seemingly nice guy like Mickey Haller should have the ability to dismantle state's and prosecutor's evidence to the point that a seemingly nailed-on guilty verdict can be undone. It leaves you wondering if there is such a thing as true justice, at least within the criminal courts, because the outcome can often be based not on the evidence but the skill with which either the prosecutor or the defender presents that evidence and cross-examines witnesses. Issues such as this are raised right at the very beginning of this novel, in a small prologue that suggests that, ultimately, everybody lies. Cops, lawyers, witnesses and victims - they all lie, and the trial is a contest of lies. For lawyers like Mickey Haller, the task in preparing for trial often revolves around finding that magic bullet, that weakness in the prosecution's case that enables him to rip it all to pieces, to at the very least giving rise to reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt. Looking back through the story, the author addressed these issues very skilfully but perhaps felt he had a moral obligation to not only explain how and why a defence attorney works the way he does, but in addition to demonstrate that some of them - well, Mickey Haller at least - have a sense of humanity and moral conscience after all. It gives the reader an escape route for feeling guilty about liking Haller, to enable them to feel that their judgement in him wasn't misplaced even if they had questioned it for most of the tale.
The surprising and unexpected conclusion to the story proves that it was actually a lot more complex than just whether the defendant 'did it' or not, because there are numerous interwoven sub-plots that all come together to answer some of the questions that might have been lingering in the reader's mind. Just as we were warned at the outset, everybody lies, some people lie about their lies, but at least one conclusion can be drawn: Michael Connelly is still at the very top of his game, and that's the undisputed truth.