Courtroom legend

Last Updated 21 December 2013, 14:30 IST

In Michael Connelly’s ‘The Gods of Guilt’, Mickey Haller has changed, but celebrityhood  hasn’t gone to his head or his wallet, writes Janet Maslin.

When we first met Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), his shyster qualities were irresistible. He used his car as an office, advertised his services on bus benches in high-crime areas and bribed bail bondsmen with cans of Planters holiday nut mix filled with money. This last ploy gave Mickey untold business opportunities and let him eat a squirrel’s diet out of Tupperware until springtime. He was a refreshing change from his brooding, much older half-brother: Connelly’s best-known character, Hieronymus Bosch, aka Harry.

But Mickey has changed. In The Gods of Guilt, it’s acknowledged that there was a movie about him — quite a good one, with Matthew McConaughey oozing comfortably into the role — and that other lawyers are now Mickey wannabes. When he jumps into a Lincoln Town Car in front of a courthouse, there’s now a danger that it won’t be his. But celebrity hasn’t gone to his head or his wallet. And nobody envies Mickey’s political acumen, since he ran for district attorney and apparently lost.

As The Gods of Guilt begins, Mickey is demonstrating that he’s still good in a courtroom and hasn’t lost his flair for a shady scam. He is violently attacked by his client. (Prearranged.) The judge declares a mistrial. Safely away from the courthouse, Mickey cleans up the fake blood around his mouth and throws away the spare blood capsule he was holding in case the first one malfunctioned.

He feels perfectly justified in having carried out this trick, and justice really is paramount with him. His client was a black man accused of following wealthy white women home from malls and attacking them. One Beverly Hills housewife insists that Mickey’s client was her assailant, but Mickey thinks interracial recognition and identification are problematic. He doesn’t want to let a jury handle such a loaded question.

This leads to the book’s major criminal case. It involves a prosperous-looking woman who goes into the Beverly Wilshire carrying a Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag as camouflage because she happens to be a prostitute and the film Pretty Woman has given the Beverly Wilshire a whole new kind of cachet. But her client does not seem to be in his room. So she leaves, at least on the evidence of video cameras planted throughout the hotel. Hours later, she is found murdered at her home. Her cyber-pimp (talk about new cachet!) is accused of strangling her.

“If you lie, I fly — that’s my rule,” Mickey tells the pimp, whose name is Andre. Mickey has a special interest in this case because he knew the dead woman through an earlier case and had a soft spot for her. Now Connelly brings to bear his expert skills at complicating matters: Gloria (the dead woman’s most recent name) once snitched on a powerful drug dealer, and is that what got her killed?

Mickey needs to find out about him. What about the other hookers who knew Gloria, including one with the memorable nom de ho of Trina Trixxx? Naturally, Mickey must make her acquaintance, too. A third hooker turns out to be a romanceable yoga teacher and threatens to give the book a soggy centre. But Mickey doesn’t have much time to get gaga over her or to pine for his sort-of-estranged teenage daughter.

The main event in the Haller books is the trial sequence. And Connelly saves his best moves for that. It must be pointed out that he has gotten more determined to save things ever since the idea of synergy entered his writing: He has an Amazon television show in the works for next year and an ebook spinoff from this novel coming in January. All it takes is for Harry Bosch to casually run into Mickey in court, mention the San Quentin lifer he’s prosecuting and have that play some small role in Mickey’s case.

The Gods of Guilt takes its unusual, hard-flogged title from something Connelly says he has overheard from lawyers. It nominally refers to jurors and their great power — but hey, we’re talking about a metaphysical guy. As he repeats “the gods of guilt” endlessly, Connelly seems to be pondering the burdens of guilt that each and every one of us carry, and what its nature is, and how we can best atone for it, and so on.

Here’s a guess: The title will be less well remembered than the various ploys, like “Marco Polo” and “Trojan Horse,” that Mickey executes in the courtroom, treating it as if it were a football field.

It is not Mickey’s modus operandi to simply collect facts, make a case and prove it. Connelly writes courtroom drama as a changeable set of circumstances, so that Mickey’s role as manipulator is at least as important as his detecting. In this book, he does a very satisfying job of feinting about what he’s truly after until he leaves his real target wholly unprotected, and the manoeuvring is masterly. And potentially very cinematic. Connelly may not be a perfect wordsmith, but he brings down the hammer of justice with unequivocal power.

The Gods of Guilt is the book that nearly turns Mickey into the Lexus Lawyer, a terrible fate. His Lincoln is a huge part of his makeup, and when it is jeopardised, so is he. We learn that 2011 is the year that Mickey’s beloved type of Lincoln Town Car went extinct, but never fear. At this story’s end, he’s back in his preferred surroundings and ready to roll whenever Connelly can make time for him.

(Published 21 December 2013, 14:30 IST)

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