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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

Little, Brown & Co., 400 pages, $28

In recent years, I’ve gravitated more toward Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller (“Lincoln Lawyer”) series than that of his Los Angeles police detective, Harry Bosch. The Mickey Haller books have a less tragic feel to them — even though awful things happen to the characters — and there’s even occasional humor. Both Harry and Mickey have personal weaknesses —what good character doesn’t? — but Mickey seems more vulnerable and sympathetic while suffering from his. The cons that Mickey pulls as a criminal defense attorney are clever, even crossing over that sticky legal ethics line as they sometimes do. And, lastly, the pacing, the ebb and flow of the attorney books is well done, especially in Gods of Guilt.

When last we saw Mickey, he had gone from winner to loser. His bid to become the next Los Angeles District Attorney (a bizarre concept) crashed and burned. A defendant whose release Mickey had won proceeded in short order to kill two innocent people. The public punished Mickey. Mickey punished Mickey. Now his office is subsisting on foreclosure cases, and Mickey trolls the courthouse for likely clients.

It is to Connelly’s credit that he instantly has created a suspenseful situation, even without introducing what will become the major crime of the book. How low can Mickey go? His daughter won’t talk to him, his wife is in DA purgatory (for having supported his candidacy), he has an office to support (granted his “office” is in the vacant part of a building in foreclosure), and his staff of Lorna (his office manager and also an ex-wife), Cisco (investigator and Lorna’s husband), Earl (the driver of the famous Lincoln Town Car), and Jennifer (the hankering-to-get-going new associate) needs direction and paychecks.

Add a major crime and stir.

Giselle Dallinger has been murdered. The accused, Andre La Cosse, told Mickey that Giselle sang Mickey’s praises and told Andre if he ever needed a criminal attorney, Mickey was the bee’s knees. Who the heck, Mickey wonders, is Giselle Dallinger? The second thing Mickey wonders is if Andre can pay his fee. No problem, Andre says, and sends over a bar of gold as a retainer. Ladies and gents, Haller and Co. are in business.

The plot thickens when Mickey discovers that Giselle was really Gloria Dayton, an old client who became his friend. He thought she had escaped life as a prostitute and moved to Hawaii. It turns out, however, that she had been living nearby, plying her old trade. Andre turns out to have been her pimp, albeit an electronic one. Although Mickey discovers that Andre is not as mild-mannered as he originally appeared, Mickey believes in Andre’s innocence, especially after he sees video footage that shows a mysterious man in a hat following Gloria just hours before her death.

The plot gets positively tarry when tales from years ago resurface and reassemble into different stories.  Mickey, it turns out, was involved peripherally then and is at the center of the story now.

I loved the courtroom scenes and Mickey’s artful legal maneuvering. I loved the way Connelly laid the groundwork and built up the story of a complex crime with clarity and an ear for a layman's sensibilities. For instance, after a technical and wordy explanation about appealing cases, he ends his paragraph with the simple explanation, "Moya had struck out swinging." I loved how he put Mickey's new romantic relationship on a matter-of-fact basis, no dwelling on amorous adventures and taking the spotlight away (and pacing away) from the main story. Finally, I loved Connelly's last paragraph. I am a connoisseur of last paragraphs. (James Lee Burke is one of my all-time favorites.) The last paragraph of Gods of Guilt rates right up there.

I’m sure there will be a lot of awards and accolades coming Connelly’s way for this book. Here’s an MBTB star for the collection.

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