Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This is the book in which Michael Connelly introduced Michael Haller, a lawyer who works out of an "office" in the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car as he navigates the various courtrooms that dot Los Angeles County. Connelly got the idea for the character in a chance meeting at a Dodgers baseball game when he sat next to an attorney who did exactly that.

Mickey Haller is a bright guy who works all of the angles. Mostly he represents drug dealers, prostitutes and other low-lifes, but except for the very occasional pro bono case, he takes only those clients who can afford the price of his services. And like all criminal attorneys, he has his eye out for the "franchise" case--the one that can pay him humongous fees.

He believes he's found such a case when he's asked to defend Louis Roulet, the son of a wealthy family and of a mother who will do anything--and pay anything--to save her son from jail. Roulet is accused of assaulting a woman he met at a bar. Like all of Mickey's clients, he claims to be innocent. Specifically, he claims that the victim hit him over the head, beat herself up (or had someone else do it) and then planted evidence that would point the finger at Roulet so that after the criminal trial she could sue him for big bucks in civil court.

The case quickly turns into something much more complicated and sinister than it originally appeared. Haller suddenly understands that genuine evil is present in this case, and he finds himself in an impossible situation. Watching him confront the case and attempt to produce a satisfactory conclusion is great fun. Haller, who has two ex-wives and a small daughter, all of whom still love him, is a very appealing character, which is doubtless why Connelly has turned him into a series character and why Hollywood jumped at the chance to make a movie of the book. Connelly proves himself to be as adept at writing legal thrillers as he is at writing more traditional crime fiction, and it's hard to imagine that any reader who likes either would not enjoy this book.

*SPOILER ALERT* Do not read beyond this point if you want to read the book or see the movie without knowing the ending in advance.

I first read this book several years ago when it was initially released, and I wanted to read it again before seeing the movie. Although Matthew McConaughey does not look remotely like the Mickey Haller I imagined in the book, he's very good in the role and after watching the movie for forty-five minutes or so, I readily accepted him as Mickey Haller. In fact, everyone in the movie is very good, particularly Marisa Tomei who plays one of Haller's ex-wives. The movie is as much fun as the book. I don't remember my initial reaction to the book's ending but while it's very exciting, both in the book and on the screen, it's hopelessly implausible and really makes no sense at all.

Essentially what has happened is that Haller discovers that his client, Roulet, is actually guilty of the murder of a woman who was killed some years earlier. Haller defended the man accused of the murder and the evidence was stacked so heavily against him that Haller convinced the client to plead guilty to the crime as a way of getting a life sentence instead of the death penalty. Haller is furious when he discovers the truth and rigs the situation so that he gets Roulet acquitted on the assault charge but sets him up to be arrested for the original murder, thus freeing the former client from San Quentin.

How he manages to do this makes great theater, but in the real world it couldn't possibly happen. The fact is that the police and the D.A. have a killer in prison who has confessed to the murder and who had a mountain of evidence that proved his guilt. The thought that they would ignore all of that and arrest and prosecute Roulet for the crime is laughable, especially based upon the flimsy evidence against Roulet that Haller has uncovered. One wishes that the justice system would work that fairly--that in a case like this the police and prosecutors would recognize their mistake and repair it--but sadly that's not the way the world works.

All too often you read about some poor schmuck who's been railroaded into prison for a crime he probably did not commit--as often as not after a coerced confession--and then later someone else comes along and actually confesses to the crime. Even in such an extreme case, it practically takes an act of God to get the first guy exonerated, and often it doesn't ever happen. The thought that the police and D.A. would turn on a dime and act as they do at the end of this book and movie makes you shake your head.

Some other equally implausible things happen at the end of the book and especially at the end of the movie, but still, if you can suspend disbelief, both are fun rides. I've enjoyed the subsequent Mickey Haller books, and I would happily see another Mickey Haller movie if it were done as well as this one.

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