When Michael S. "Mickey" Haller Jr. debuted in Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer" in 2005, he firmly established himself among the pack of legal eagles popularized by Scott Turow, John Grisham and Linda Fairstein. But keeping Mickey rolling in the back of his Lincoln Town Car/office meant Connelly had to do double duty, researching and plotting Mickey's adventures while keeping his other hero, Harry Bosch, in play at the LAPD.
Lucky for readers that Connelly has been working the night shift. In "The Gods of Guilt," Connelly's fifth outing with Mickey, he delivers another heart-pounding walk on the other side of the mean streets Bosch patrols so vigilantly, while painting a deeper, more nuanced picture of Haller and his legal team.
When last seen in 2011's "The Fifth Witness," Mickey had scored a big acquittal for a client accused of murdering a banker she blamed for foreclosing on her home. The fallout from that case helped Mickey decide to change his life by running for district attorney. "The Gods of Guilt" opens after the election with Mickey back in the courtroom but as a defense attorney. Mickey's run for prosecutorial glory didn't go so well, thanks to the publicity backlash from the deaths of a mother and daughter at the hands of another of Mickey's acquitted clients.
But now a different kind of glory awaits — defending "digital pimp" Andre La Cosse, who's accused of murdering Giselle Dallinger, a prostitute whose social media "appointments" he managed. Ironically, La Cosse engages Mickey based on praise from the victim, whom Mickey knew as Gloria Dayton, a.k.a. "Glory Days," a pro-bono client for whom Mickey made a quick courthouse deal years earlier in exchange for her rolling on a Mexican drug dealer.
Mickey thought he'd persuaded Gloria to get out of the life and move to Hawaii, but she'd secretly returned to L.A. and resumed her trade, arguing with La Cosse at her apartment over his cut from a "Pretty Woman" call she made to a suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Giselle claimed the client was a no-show, which prompted the violent argument and La Cosse's arrest shortly thereafter.
Despite admitting to LAPD detectives that he had grabbed Gloria by the neck, La Cosse is adamant that he didn't kill her. La Cosse's insistence, plus his connection to Gloria, spurs Mickey and his team to dig a little deeper, uncovering surprising circumstances behind Gloria's case years before that helps them build an alternative theory of the crime that Haller argues before the jury, "the gods of guilt."
Mickey's team is a diverse group, including Lorna Taylor, Mickey's second ex-wife and case manager for the practice; Cisco Wojciechowski, his heavily muscled and tattooed investigator and Lorna's current husband; Jennifer Aronson, a recent graduate from Southwestern School of Law assigned the ongoing foreclosure work but itching to get a criminal case; and Earl Briggs, a former client now working as Haller's driver but who demonstrates skills that expand his role in the investigation. Connelly makes each a valuable contributor to the investigation and gives them enough space to make readers care as they pursue a risky path to justice for La Cosse and Gloria.
Connelly also gives new dimensions to Haller, now in his late 40s, twice-divorced, lonely and beginning to showing signs of wear from his hard-charging, hard-drinking lifestyle. Connelly continues to enrich our understanding of Mickey's character through people who've influenced him: older half-brother Bosch, whose words and dark-eyed deeds are both touchstone and counterpoint to Mickey's shiftier working for the defense; his deceased father, another defender of "so-called women of the night"; and his father's legal partner, David "Legal" Siegel, who, from his nursing home bed, helps the younger Haller deal with the gods of guilt in the courtroom and in life.
Yet for all of the deft character touches Connelly layers in the book, "The Gods of Guilt" is first and foremost a propulsive, engaging legal thriller that for sheer courtroom drama surpasses the bestselling "The Fifth Witness," which earned Connelly the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for legal fiction. And while Lee's Atticus Finch might not have defended clients quite like Andre La Cosse or Gloria Dayton, both he and Mickey Haller share a thirst for justice, regardless of the cost, that makes Haller a worthy colleague of Finch and Bosch and puts him in the front of the pack in the legal thriller game.
Woods has written four mysteries in the Charlotte Justice series and edited several anthologies.
The Gods of Guilt
Little, Brown and Company: 387 pp., $28