You can't say Michael Connelly didn't warn you: That's the opening line of his electrifying new novel The Brass Verdict.
This is Connelly's second novel about Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Mickey Haller Jr. Connelly has also written 13 bestsellers about L.A. police Detective Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch (most recently The Overlook in 2007), as well as several standalone novels and a nonfiction collection.
Connelly, a former journalist who lives in the Tampa Bay area but sets his books in the classic crime-novel territory of L.A., introduced Haller in his 2005 book The Lincoln Lawyer, so called because Haller worked out of his car.
That was no sign of failure, just a practical modus operandi for a lawyer in a county with 40 courthouses. Hire a chauffeur, buy a fleet of Lincoln Town Cars with vanity plates like "IWALKEM," work the cell phone and laptop between courthouses. Who needs bricks and mortar?
The charming but driven Haller had a thriving practice, but by the end of The Lincoln Lawyer he also had a bullet in his gut. That led to a long, painful recovery, which led to an addiction to painkillers, which led to a stint in rehab.
As The Brass Verdict opens, Haller is feeling just about ready to go back to work when a bonanza lands in his lap. He has a reciprocal agreement with another lawyer, Jerry Vincent — since they're both one-lawyer firms, they've covered for each other when they're indisposed — and, though Haller has been out of action for a couple of years, the agreement is still in force.
Vincent, it seems, is way worse than indisposed. Haller is summoned by the chief judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, who informs him that he has inherited the other man's entire practice now that Vincent has been shot to death in the parking garage of his downtown office. Maybe he should have been a Lincoln lawyer, too.
Vincent's pending cases include one high-profile doozy: the murder trial of Hollywood producer Walter Elliot, accused of shooting his wife and her lover in a Malibu beach house. The arrogant Elliot, whose case rings with echoes of O.J. Simpson and Phil Spector, insists his trial cannot be delayed; Haller must be ready to begin in two weeks. It doesn't make much sense, but Haller loves a challenge.
Even before Haller starts butting heads with his celebrity client, he's got someone else up in his grille: Bosch.
The detective has been assigned to investigate Vincent's murder, and he and Haller lock horns upon first meeting in the dead man's office, sparring over whether his case files are confidential or evidential. Their contentious relationship intensifies as it becomes evident that Vincent's killer may be after Haller next.
Bosch and Connelly's longtime fans know something Haller doesn't: He and Bosch are half-brothers.
Way back in the second Bosch book, The Black Ice in 1993, Connelly filled us in on the enigmatic cop's background. Raised in foster homes after his unmarried mother was murdered, Bosch as an adult tracked down his father: famed defense attorney Michael Haller Sr. The two met only once, as Haller Sr. was dying.
The Brass Verdict is Mickey Haller's book, but his path keeps intersecting with Bosch's in surprising ways. And, just as he did in The Lincoln Lawyer, Connelly shifts his style to fit his protagonist. The Bosch books, most of them narrated in third person, are more descriptive, and they punctuate suspenseful, often violent action with Bosch's brooding introspection.
Haller is a first-person narrator and much less given to brooding; he's humorous where Bosch is sardonic, methodical where Bosch is intuitive. But the two characters share a relentless nature and — despite Haller's protestations that a client's innocence or guilt doesn't matter to him as a defense attorney — a thirst for justice.
Much of The Brass Verdict takes place in courtrooms and offices, instead of the mean streets where Bosch plies his craft, but Connelly creates plenty of tension in those supposedly more civilized spaces.
And he makes deliciously skillful use of first-person narration — Haller may speak to the reader directly, but he's still playing his cards close to his vest. The Brass Verdict keeps twisting with new surprises almost to the very last page.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.