Depth and complexity
FEW writers can hook in readers from the start like Michael Connelly. Give me five minutes with a new Connelly novel and that’s pretty much it. None of the slow burn, pull you in gently stuff; it’s in with a bang and where did my weekend go?
Connelly is a master of many things and, less dramatically, consistency is one of them. I have yet to read a bad novel by the multi-award winning American and I have a feeling I never will. For many of us he is the ultimately professional writer and surely every publisher’s dream – one or two books a year that never drop in quality or appeal. Or presumably success. Which is why the arrival of a new novel is always a source of celebration in our household because we know that a good read is pretty much guaranteed.
The Gods Of Guilt starts with a twist. Mickey Haller – for this is a Lincoln Lawyer novel not a Harry Bosch one – is in court defending another of the lowlifes on whom his practice and income depends. Things are not going well until Haller pulls one of his most devious defence tricks. It’s startling, dramatic and underhand – in other words, it’s typical Haller. But it is just the warm-up act for what follows after he gets a text from his ex-wife Lorna, now his general factotum. It reads, “Call me ASAP – 187”.
That number is the California penal code number for murder and murder cases are appealing because, as Haller explains, “to defend a murder suspect you had to be at the very top of your game. To get a murder case you had to have a certain reputation that put you at the top of the game. And in addition to all that there was the money.... You get a murder case with a paying customer and you likely make your whole nut for the year.”
And things look very good when the suspect in this particular killing offers to pay in gold, and sends a chunk of it to pay all of his initial expenses in advance. Andre La Cosse is a digital pimp, that is, he runs a website on which escorts can advertise their trade. The deal is straightforward: La Cosse keeps them looking good on the website and then collects a percentage when the advertising attracts a client.
That was what he was doing when he went to collect his dues from Giselle Dallinger. According to la Cosse, Giselle claimed that she went to the hotel room as instructed but there was no one there. La Cosse did not believe her and a row ensued. La Cosse admits grabbing Giselle by the throat but strenuously denies killing her. From a defence point of view this does not look good. But Haller comes to believe that La Cosse, unsavoury character though he might be, is innocent.
He also learns that the victim was a former client of his, then known as Gloria Dayton. The two had a close bond and Haller tried, in vain as it turns out, to turn her away from escort life. Now the stakes have suddenly been upped by the addition of a personal involvement.
Haller’s defence takes time to build and it is not long before a host of subsidiary characters are introduced, some villainous, some not. One I particularly enjoyed was Legal Siegal, Haller’s mentor now in a nursing home that tries to control his diet and lifestyle, a restriction that Haller does his best to subvert by bringing in such luxuries as French dip from Philippe the Original secreted in his briefcase. It is to Siegal he turns when needing advice on the strategy behind a case and when needing some support after a criminal for whom he gained an acquittal killed two people in a driving incident. That had cost him the love and respect of his daughter.
Connelly explores the moral issues of being a defence lawyer with some subtlety. Haller’s clientele are by and large lowlifes and many are clearly guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. Yet as Legal Siegal reminds him, it is the bedrock of the legal system that everyone is entitled to a proper defence – Mickey is just doing his job. Haller is unconvinced: “People died and it’s on me, Legal. You can’t hide behind just doing your job when two people get creamed at an intersection by the guy you set free.”
The Gods Of Guilt of the title are the jury who return a verdict and, “Those I have loved and those I have hurt. Those who bless me and those who haunt me”. Mickey Haller, tough nut though he is, has his own ghosts and they add depth and complexity to a wonderful character creation in yet another excellent Connelly thriller.