"The Brass Verdict"
(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew OCT 31, 2008)
"I don't care. It's a given. Guilty guys don't testify. Everybody knows it. I'm testifying that I did not do this."
He poked his finger at me with each syllable of the last sentence. I still liked his forcefulness. He was believable. Maybe he could survive the stand.
"Well, ultimately it is your decision," I said. "We'll get you prepared to testify but we won't make the decision until we get into the defense phase of the trial and we see where we stand."
"It's decided now. I'm testifying."
His face began to turn a deep shade of crimson. I had to tread lightly here. I didn't want him to testify but it was unethical for me to forbid it. It was a client decision and if he ever claimed I took it away from him or refused to let him testify, I would have the bar swarming me like lawyers at a plane crash.
It's 2007 and the Lincoln lawyer is back in business. Mickey Haller, the criminal defense attorney who had put his law practice on hold while he recovered from the aftereffects of taking a shot to the gut -- including a ferocious painkiller addiction -- gets a call from the office of the chief judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. Judge Mary Townes Holder soon informs him that he has inherited the active cases of a lawyer named Jerry Vincent. Vincent was murdered the night before in his office building's garage.
Mickey knows the man, of course. Fifteen years ago, Mickey, as a public defender, faced off against prosecutor Vincent and won the acquittal of one drug dealer double murder suspect Barnett Woodson by proving a key witness of Vincent's had to be lying. After the verdict, Woodson sauntered out of the courtroom and promptly bragged to reporters that he had in fact committed the two murders. Vincent's career with the district attorney's office went up in smoke, but he easily rebounded and took up more lucrative defense work. Over the years, Vincent and Mickey had been friends of a sort and had backed each other up professionally.
Now, Mickey heads over to Vincent's office to protect confidential client files from the greedy gazes and filching fingers of the police investigating Vincent's violent demise. Mickey himself was never an office man; he preferred working out of the back seat of one of his little fleet of Lincolns while being chauffeured to his next client appointment. But now, Vincent's "large and opulent" office, complete with a sign that chides, If I'd Kept My Mouth Shut / I Wouldn't Be Here is his. Arriving there, he encounters two LAPD detectives already sorting through files. And one of them just happens to be Detective Harry Bosch, a fellow at the center of quite a string of crime fiction in his own right. Mickey and Harry will see a good deal more of each other before this story concludes. For now, Mickey succeeds in protecting his newly-acquired client files and in pissing off the cops.
Among his new clients is Walter Elliot, the publicity-splashed Hollywood studio owner who is scheduled to go on trial for the murder of his wife and her lover. Mickey hightails it over to do a sales job and convince the man to retain him in place of Vincent. Elliot wants above all for his trial to proceed on schedule. No more postponements he insists: "I want this over!" He wants to be vindicated as soon as possible and is obviously confident that he will be. Tamping down his better instincts, Mickey promises he can be ready to go next week. He really wants this big, lucrative case.
And thus begins Michael Connelly's flawlessly paced courtroom and crime novel, The Brass Verdict. Mickey, his supremely organized ex-wife case manager, Lorna; his investigator sporting a virtually unpronounceable Polish surname but called simply "Cisco;" and a new, young driver who's been dug out of Vincent's files and who shares addiction weaknesses with Mickey; team up to get to the bottom of both Vincent's violent end and the slaughter at the Elliot mansion.
Connelly himself hasn't attended law school as revealed by the lack of legal terminology in the book. One would think this would be a handicap when tackling legal suspense, but the author is so practiced at smart storytelling that it really isn't. Mickey is no teflon character; the mud of life does spatter him, but he is a man of basic decency and someone with a real head on his shoulders. Give him some uninterrupted time with case files and he will find that one previously illusive clue that will crack things wide open. Then, when he goes into court, he may not spout the typical quota of legalese, but his brain power and hard work usually put him in the cat bird's seat. He can get clients off using solid evidence. The unfolding of Mickey's defense in the Elliot trial is legal eagle heaven.
Walter Elliot is no street hood Barnett Woodson. He's a willful and powerful businessman with an agenda, a timetable, and vast resources. Mickey has his hands full getting Elliot to cooperate fully in his own defense. Yet, Elliot's cocky confidence in Mickey's abilities to secure a "not guilty" verdict seems odd given the strength of the prosecution's case against him. At least at first. Then Mickey, a man who inherited his famous father's incisive legal instincts, thinks he's found ammunition that could blow the prosecution's case sky high (much as happened in the old Woodson case). The unfolding of Mickey's defense of Elliot, despite his problems with and doubts about the defendant, makes for riveting, cagey courtroom drama.
Don't forget Jerry Vincent either. Harry Bosch won't. He and Mickey gradually form a not entirely trusting covert alliance to try to find Vincent's murderer. When they have said and done all that can be to identify and apprehend said killer or killers, the reader may nod and say, "I knew it" about one major piece of the puzzle. But this bit of formulaic obviousness doesn't spoil the overall plot's inventive robustness.
Connelly never forgets to make his characters vividly human and to include the personal side. The best payoff of this kind in The Brass Verdict unspools in the penultimate chapter. A poignant connection comes out into the open there. Savor this subdued but perfect moment in time because it is over too soon and stands splendidly alone.
In Chapter One, Mickey counsels the reader, "Everybody lies." He continues, "The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient. To wait. Not for any lie, but for the one you can grab onto and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that blade to rip the case open and spill its guts on the floor." He adds the kicker: "That's my job, to forge the blade. To sharpen it. To sue it without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where everybody lies." Mickey is brilliant at his job. The question is whether his bravado about "without mercy or conscience" will actually reflect his true nature. Intellectually, he is more than capable of forging and using that blade. But as a matter of moral constitution? Regardless of client guilt or innocence? Read The Brass Verdict and find out what really makes the Lincoln lawyer tick.
- Amazon readers rating: from 267 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Brass Verdict at the author's website(back to top)
"The Lincoln Lawyer"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple DEC 12, 2005)
"Every case I took on was a house built on a foundation poured by overworked and underpaid laborers. They cut corners. They made mistakes. And then they painted over the mistakes with lies. My job was to peel away the paint and find the cracks. To work my fingers and tools into those cracks and widen them. To make them so big that either the house fell down or, failing that, my client slipped through."
In what may be the best mystery of the year, author Michael Connelly writes a legal thriller that quickly captures the reader's attention and holds it, riveted, until the end, not because of issues involving legal procedure, or secret information, or questions about the client's guilt, all of which are at issue here, but because the client and his lawyer are ultimately engaged in a chess game in which the lawyer loses if the client wins. The lawyer, Michael "Mick" Haller, son of a famous attorney who died when his son was very young, is an ethical man, determined to do right by his client, but he, like many other attorneys, is looking for a "franchise case," a case for which the client can pay for all services and appeals, and thereby subsidize the pro bono work the lawyer does for indigent clients.
In this case, the defense of Louis Ross Roulet, a young man engaged in the family real estate business, against charges of assault against women, may be Haller's "franchise case." His other cases involve Harold Casey, known as "Hard Case," a biker arrested on drug charges, and Gloria Dayton, a prostitute arrested with drugs which may have been planted. An old case, that of Jesus Menendez, who, following Mick's advice, pled guilty to murder, while insisting on his innocence, also emerges, since some of the evidence in the Roulet case is similar to that of the Menendez case.
Living and working primarily from his Lincoln Town Car, Mick has problems. With two ex-wives, one of whom is "Maggie McFierce," a deputy district attorney, by whom he has a young daughter, Mick finds himself losing himself in his work while still wanting to stay connected with his daughter. Simultaneously vulnerable but tough, Mick wants to do what is right but sometimes finds himself caught between competing demands on his time. By the time the trial of Louis Roulet finally begins, Haller knows that two of his cases are inextricably connected, and one of the people Haller most respects has been murdered.
Connelly's skill as a novelist is obvious in his ability to present procedural issues in an interesting way. The give and take of the legal profession, the compromises and agreements made, and the legal slang all feel natural and give a sense of the tension and tactics to which the various attorneys and police resort as they engage in pre-trial maneuvering. The relationships among defense attorneys, private attorneys, district attorneys, prosecutors, bondsmen, the press, private investigators, and politicians and judges in various court districts are clearly spelled out and convey the sense of how things work in real life. The life of the defense attorney as he moves from case to case, the personal agonies he may face as he decides on the legal moves which will determine the fates of his clients for years to come, and the second guessing that emerges after the cases are decided all come to life here and involve the reader.
As Haller comes to know his client Roulet and investigate his past, he recognizes the fiendish intelligence guiding Roulet's behavior, and to some extent controlling his own behavior. Though the cast of characters here is not large, the case becomes extraordinarily complex as the past emerges in relationship to the present. As Roulet, the client, and Haller, the defense attorney, engage in the high stakes chess game and move/countermove which Roulet's case represents, the conflict becomes intensely personal, challenging Haller both morally and legally. Every aspect of Haller's life is affected, and as he tries to be honest, he must also recognize that the rules by which he plays "the game" are not the same rules which less principled players obey.
The best mystery I've read all year, The Lincoln Lawyer fascinates on the level of plot and character, but it also offers intriguing glimpses of the ethical conflicts which defense attorneys face on a daily basis as they defend the sometimes indefensible while challenging the sometimes "cooked" evidence presented by the opposition. This novel raises the ante of the legal thriller, revealing the emotional complexities underlying the defense attorney's commitments to his clients.
- Amazon readers rating: from 387 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Lincoln Lawyer at Hachette Books
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
LAPD Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch Series
- The Black Echo (1992)
- The Black Ice (1993)
- The Concrete Blonde (1994)
- The Last Coyote (1995)
- Trunk Music (1997)
- Angels Flight (1999)
- A Darkness More than Night (2001) *
- City of Bones (2002) /
- Lost Light (2003)
- The Narrows (2004) ***
- The Closers (2005)
- Echo Park (2006)
- The Overlook (2007)
- Nine Dragons (2009) ****
- The Drop (2011)
- The Black Box (November 2012)
- The Lincoln Lawyer (2005) /
- The Brass Verdict (2008) **
- The Reversal (2010) **
- The Fifth Witness (2011) **
- The Gods of Guilt (October 2013)
- The Poet (1996) ***
- Blood Work (1998) *
- Void Moon (2000)
- Chasing the Dime (2002)
- The Scarecrow (2009)
* Terry McCaleb is in these novels
** Harry Bosch is in these novels
*** The Poet is in these novels.
****Mickey Haller is in this novel
Movies from Books:
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Reviews of stand-alone Michael Connelly books:
- MostlyFiction.com review of Bloodwork
- MostlyFiction.com review of Chasing the Dime
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Scarecrow
Reviews of lawyer Mickey Haller books:
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Brass Verdict
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Lincoln Lawyer
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Reversal
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Fifth Witness
Reviews of Harry Bosch books:
- MostlyFiction.com review of City of Bones
- MostlyFiction.com review of Lost Light
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Narrows
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Closers
- MostlyFiction.com review of Echo Park
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Overlook
- MostlyFiction.com review of Nine Dragons
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Drop
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About the Author:
Michael Connelly graduated from the University of Florida with a major in journalism and a minor in creative writing and went on to work for major newspapers in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. After being shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize, Connelly was snatched up by the LA Times and began to work the crime beat in the city his literary hero Raymond Chandler had immortalized. His first novel, The Black Echo, written three years later, went on to win the Edgar Award for best first novel by the Mystery Writers of America. Connelly's books have won the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, Nero, Maltese Falcon (Japan), .38 Caliber (France) and Grand Prix (France) awards. Michael was also one of the creators, writers, and consulting producers of Level 9, a TV show about a task force fighting cyber crime that ran on UPN in the Fall of 2000.
Connelly lives with his wife and daughter in Florida.