Review: Defense attorney Mickey Haller faces consequences in Michael Connelly's "The Gods of Guilt"

Published Nov. 27, 2013

The opening pages of The Gods of Guilt find Mickey Haller up to his old tricks — trying to undermine a witness' credibility on the stand and, when that doesn't work, staging a courtroom stunt aimed at getting a mistrial.

But Mickey, whom bestselling author Michael Connelly introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer in 2005, is not just a stereotypical ethics-challenged criminal defense attorney. In The Gods of Guilt, the fifth novel in the series about him (the first became a movie in 2011), he's grappling with the consequences of his actions in all kinds of ways.

One of them involves the case at the center of the book's plot, the murder of a prostitute named Gloria Dayton, a.k.a. Glory Days (and many other names). Dayton last appeared in The Lincoln Lawyer as a repeat client of Mickey's who became a special project of his: "For the last seven years I thought she had gotten away and that I had helped. She had taken the money I gave her and flown off to Hawaii, where she claimed there was a longtime client who wanted to take her in and help her start over."

No such luck. Dayton was back in Los Angeles working through an online escort service, and the man who wants to hire Mickey to defend him is her pimp, Andre La Cosse, who has been charged with killing her. Any hesitation Mickey might have about taking the case is quieted when La Cosse makes his first payment with a gold ingot worth more than $50,000.

Mickey gathers his team to dig into the case: Lorna, his sensible second ex-wife; Lorna's current husband, biker and crack investigator Cisco; Mickey's promising new associate, Jennifer Aronson; and Earl Briggs, his trusted driver. (The nickname "Lincoln lawyer" comes from Mickey's habit of running his practice out of his Lincoln Town Car instead of an office.)

Soon they focus on Dayton's ominous connections to a ruthless Sinaloa cartel drug dealer, Hector Moya, whom Dayton helped put in prison, and to James Marco, a high-powered DEA agent involved in Moya's case. And as their investigation gets closer to its mark, someone on Mickey's team pays a shocking toll.

Dayton's murder isn't the only death weighing on Mickey's mind. His teenage daughter, Hayley, has cut him out of her life after Mickey got a client who had been arrested for DUI out of jail on a technicality — and the client caused another accident in which Hayley's close friend and the friend's mother died. Connelly likes to construct titles for his books that can have several meanings, and those two victims are among the "gods of guilt" in this book.

The phrase was coined, though, by Mickey's father, a legendary defense attorney, to describe the jury, the ones who decide a criminal's fate. The Gods of Guilt moves swiftly to the courtroom, where, as in all of the Haller books, Connelly does a masterful job of creating and sustaining drama. Mickey narrates the books in first person, but he keeps some secrets even from the reader, so that there are surprises at every turn, not to mention a few major shocks even Mickey doesn't expect.

Mickey, as fans will know, is the half-brother of Connelly's greatest creation, homicide investigator Harry Bosch (who makes a very brief appearance in this book). Bosch's sense of justice is unbending, the driving force in his life — his personal credo is "Everybody counts or nobody counts." Mickey has a way to go before he develops his big brother's sense of integrity, but The Gods of Guilt is a fascinating step in that direction.