Mickey Haller built his career on Lincolns.
The flashy Los Angeles defense attorney uses the luxury cars to commute among the city’s many courthouses, often chauffeured by clients working off his fees. That has earned him a catchy nickname: the Lincoln Lawyer.
But his latest Lincoln has a dead body in the trunk, and the cops are sure Haller put it there.
That’s the setup for The Law of Innocence, the sixth novel featuring Haller by internationally bestselling author Michael Connelly. The first, The Lincoln Lawyer in 2005, became a movie with Matthew McConaughey in the title role. The most recent was The Gods of Guilt in 2013.
Not that Connelly has been goofing off since then. He’s published multiple books in his beloved series about L.A. detective Harry Bosch, as well as three in a new series about LAPD Detective Renée Ballard and, earlier this year, the third in his series about reporter Jack McEvoy, Fair Warning. He’s also executive producer of the Amazon TV series Bosch and has made two seasons of the Murder Book podcast.
Haller has appeared in some of those books centered on other characters, but he’s back in the spotlight in this wonderfully twisty legal thriller. As the book opens, he’s celebrating a win in court with a crew of friends at a bar called the Redwood. He’s been sober for several years, but he observes the tradition of picking up everyone else’s tab, so it’s quite a party.
When Haller is pulled over for a traffic stop right after he leaves the bar, he assumes it’s just a nuisance, an officer who chose the spot for the satisfaction of nabbing drunk defense lawyers. But the license plate on Haller’s car is missing, and there’s a dark liquid dripping from the trunk. Haller refuses to open it and finds himself handcuffed in the back seat of the patrol car while the officer pops the trunk to reveal a dead man.
By Chapter 2, Haller has spent more than a month in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown L.A., offering pro bono legal advice to other inmates while looking over his shoulder every minute.
He’s facing a first-degree murder charge — and he’s defending himself. “I know what Lincoln said and probably many wise men before him and since,” he tells us. “Maybe I did have a fool for a client, but I couldn’t see putting my future in any hands other than my own.”
Rather than put up $5 million in bail, Haller has requested a speedy trial and is using his time in lockup to prepare, helped by law partner Jennifer Aronson, investigator Cisco Wojciechowski and case manager Lorna Taylor, a.k.a. Haller’s first ex-wife. (The second ex-wife, Maggie McPherson, is a prosecutor but will pitch in later.) Haller’s daughter, Hayley, is in law school now and eager to help.
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The corpse in the Lincoln’s trunk does have a connection to Haller. Before he was shot several times, Sam Scales was a career con man. He specialized in disaster cons, setting up “websites to take donations for survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, and school shootings,” then scooping up the money himself. Haller had defended him in several cases, but finally got sick of his methods.
There are plenty of people who might have wanted to kill Scales, but the question is who wanted Haller to take the blame: “Now the victim in the biggest con of all, I was set up for a murder that I knew was going to be a hard frame to break.”
A “not guilty” verdict is too low a bar for Haller — he’s determined to actually prove his innocence. The only way to do that is to prove someone else killed Scales. To help, he brings in his half brother, Harry Bosch, to help with the investigation. It’s interesting to see Bosch through Haller’s eyes; if you’re a fan of the Bosch books, you’re used to seeing everything from his point of view, and the two are very different.
As always, Connelly does a splendid job with both the courtroom drama and the suspenseful, often dangerous process behind it. He always sets his novels in the year they are published, and that added another degree of difficulty this time. The Law of Innocence is the first novel I’ve read that builds in the cornonavirus pandemic.
Connelly began writing it last fall, before the lockdown (which has kept him in Los Angeles and away from his other home in Tampa). He realized he couldn’t send Haller into a crowded courtroom in April 2020, so he altered the timeline.
He also skillfully weaves in references to the pandemic. At first it’s just Haller and Bosch in a car listening to radio news, and Bosch asking, “Where the hell is Wuhan?” Later it’s jail guards wearing masks. By the end of the book, the full-blown pandemic sets the stage for an explosive finale.
The Law of Innocence
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 432 pages, $29
Times Virtual Festival of Reading
Starting Nov. 12, you can watch an interview with Michael Connelly at festivalofreading.com.