Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer Returns

In a difficult economy, the criminal defense business is not all that it used to be and so Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, is reduced to defending clients who are about to lose their homes to foreclosure. One of his clients, a not very pleasant woman named Lisa Trammel is not content simply to let Mickey wage the legal battle on her behalf. She begins her own campaign on line and in the streets to defend herself and others against what she perceives to be the villainy of the greedy bankers who are attempting to kick them out of their homes.

Lisa becomes enough of a nuisance that WestLand Financial, the bank that is attempting to foreclose on her home, secures a restraining order against her. Shortly thereafter, Mitchell Bondurant, the banker who heads the mortgage department at WestLand, is savagely killed in the bank's parking garage. Critical evidence points to Lisa Trammel as the killer, but she insists that she has respected the restraining order and that she was nowhere near the bank the morning that Bondurant was murdered.

Lisa retains Mickey to defend her against the murder charge and Mickey suddenly finds himself back in court, doing what he loves. He can hardly love his client, though, who turns out to be a major pain in the neck and who complicates the defense in a variety of ways. Mickey constructs an alternate theory to explain the crime and the question is whether he can get a jury to buy his suggestion before his client torpedoes the case and Mickey along with it.

This is another cleverly constructed legal thriller from Michael Connelly with a "ripped-from-the-headlines" storyline. The courtroom scenes, in particular, are very well done and will keep you on the edge of your seat. As in all of the Haller books, there is also an ongoing subplot involving Mickey's relationship with his ex-wife and their daughter. Connelly's fans and others who enjoy legal thrillers but who have not yet made Mickey Haller's acquaintance are sure to enjoy this page-turner of a book.


As a side note, one of the things that intrigues me about this series is the fact that in these books, as in real life, virtually all of the clients that Mickey Haller sees as a defense attorney are actually guilty. This is still a fairly unusual thing to happen in a legal thriller. This genre originated, as a practical matter, with Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason series. Mason remains probably the most famous fictional criminal defense attorney of all, and yet amazingly all eighty-five of the clients he defended in this series were actually innocent!

This has continued to be the case with most other books like this. As the book progresses, our defense attorney hero must not only conduct a brilliant defense of his or her client, but he or she must also expose the Real Killer in the process.

To Connelly's credit, he doesn't do this. Still, though, he seems uncomfortable with the idea of allowing his hero, Attorney Haller, to exercise his considerable talents in the service of allowing a bad person to escape his or her just desserts. In the last Haller novel, Connelly addressed the issue by allowing Haller to switch sides and join the prosecution. In this book, as in The Lincoln Lawyer, we have another twist at the end that allows Mickey to achieve justice in spite of the brilliant defense he has mounted. To my mind, this tactic worked well the first time around, but I'm not so sure it's as plausible here. Connelly may have resolved the issue with another totally unexpected twist at the end of this book, and it will be interesting to see the direction that the author takes Haller in the future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On the Seamy Side of Galveston

Roy Cady is having what can only be described as an especially bad day. In the afternoon, he discovers that he is terminally ill. Later that evening, he realizes that his boss, a New Orleans loan shark, is almost certainly setting him up to be killed. Roy manages to turn the tables on his would-be assassins and winds up on the run with a sexy young girl and her infant sister.

The trio makes its way to Galveston and holes up in a fleabag motel. There, Roy's larger story unfolds along with that of Rocky, the older of the two girls that Roy is attempting to rescue. Roy and Rocky face insurmountable odds, and Roy debates throughout the wiser course of action: Should he remain with the girls or abandon them and head out on his own? The headstrong Rocky does not make matters any easier and before long, Roy finds himself drawn inexorably into a world of emotional and physical turmoil.

This is a very well-written, carefully constructed novel with some unique characters. The settings are particularly memorable and, probably needless to say, this is not Jimmy Webb or Glen Campbell's "Galveston." Fans of noir-ish crime fiction should enjoy it a great deal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Introducing Jack Reacher

This is the book that introduced Lee Child's popular character, Jack Reacher in 1997. Reacher is a former military cop who's been made redundant by the end of the cold war. After spending his entire life in the military (Reacher grew up in a military family), he's now completely on his own, footloose and fancy-free. After spending much of his life abroad, he's wandering about the country, getting to know the U.S. up close and personal. As will continue to be the case, Reacher travels light, with nothing more than the clothes on his back, paying cash, traveling by bus and staying off the grid.

On a whim, Reacher has a bus driver drop him off at the interchange for tiny Margrave, Georgia. Reacher has heard a story about an ancient Blues man who once spent time in the town and decides to check it out. He walks fourteen miles into town, orders a cup of coffee in a diner, and is promptly arrested for murder.

Reacher knows that he hasn't killed anyone, at least not in Margrave and not for some time, so he's obviously mystified. He soon discovers that there are a lot of weird things going on in this tiny, pristine town where the townfolk, or at least a good number of them, are harboring some strange secrets. Reacher couldn't care less. He just wants to get clear of the murder charges, get back on the bus, and resume his wandering life. But he quickly develops a personal stake in the murder case, which is decidedly bad news for the evildoers.

Before long, the bodies are piling up left and right, and Reacher is contributing more than his fair share to the carnage. This is a cleverly-plotted book, although it does depend on a coincidence that's almost too huge to swallow. Still, it's a fun read that sets the template for the future books in the series. This is essentially "Shane" brought forward into the Twentieth (and now the Twenty-first) century. Jack Reacher is the mysterious stranger with something approaching mystical powers, who rides into a troubled town, albeit on a Greyhound rather than a horse. He cleans up the town, disposes of the bad guys, dallies briefly with a beautiful, sexy woman that he will have to abandon in the end, and then, once his job is done, he rides off into the sunset.

What's not to like? The formula has worked very well through sixteen books now, and Jack Reacher has become an international favorite. Those who have somehow missed him would do well to start with Killing Floor.