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The twists and turns don’t slow this thrill ride

Special to The Times

The Lincoln Lawyer

A Novel

Michael Connelly

Little, Brown: 408 pp., $26.95

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BEWARE of picking up Michael Connelly’s “The Lincoln Lawyer.” You won’t want to put it down until you’ve navigated its rapids to the end.

Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney who understands that law and morality are very different, who thinks of law as a large, rusting machine that sucks up people and lives and money and who thinks of morality not at all.

Haller has practiced law for 15 years, mainly out of the back seat of his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car (hence the title), traveling Los Angeles’ freeways between the city’s far-flung courthouses, becoming ever more addicted to his cellphone and to his very professional investigator, Raul Levin.

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Some of what Haller once learned in law school has been sharpened, some has dimmed. Defending clients, now, is just a way to make a living by negotiation and manipulation.

The law, he explains, is not about truth; he does not deal in guilt or innocence, because everybody is guilty. Of something. But not every charge will stick, and his job is to unstick what he can.

He assumes that every case he works has been put together by overworked and underpaid laborers. They cut corners. They make mistakes. They paint over their blunders with omissions and lies. His job is to peel away the paint, reopen the chinks beneath it and let his client slip through the cracks, then do the same for another client. And another.

That’s how he can afford the Lincoln, the driver, an efficient case manager in the office he barely sees, the investigator he trusts and Maggie McPherson, his divorced wife, his friend and the mother of his daughter.

Louis Roulet, a playboy who doubles as a real estate agent, asks Haller to defend him against charges of the aggravated assault and the attempted rape of a young woman who picked him up in a bar. She does not deny that she works as a prostitute, but she claims that Roulet forced himself into her home, and she displays a battered and badly damaged face to prove his aggression. Roulet, for his part, claims that she invited him in, hit him from behind, then called the police as he lay unconscious.

The he-said, she-said situation quickly turns into a can of lethal worms, and Haller’s plan to earn large fees from a simple case becomes a murderous game.

This edgy unpredictability is the stock in trade of Connelly, the man who invented that great detective, Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. Like the malicious world Bosch lives in, Haller’s features flawed heroes, con men, drug dealers, whores, real estate brokers, lawmen and other wayward figures who lurch through frauds and homicides (including Levin’s), hot cases, cold cases, crackly and resonant doings. Just as in life, as the curtain closes, some questions remain open. Who’s to complain?

If Connelly hasn’t bothered to tie up all the loose ends, you hardly notice as his intricate, fast-moving tale barrels along. Haller no longer enjoys what he is doing. He can’t get over having misjudged a client who had claimed to be innocent and turns out to have told the truth, but Haller sent him to prison on a plea. He can’t get over Levin’s murder.

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Worst of all, he doesn’t love money enough to do what he needs to do to keep it coming. To make money, you need to honestly, fervently adore it and devote yourself to acquiring it. Haller has too many distractions: his ex-wife, his daughter and a residual Lincolnesque respect for justice.

Entangled in Haller’s imbroglios, you’ll find yourself reading far into the night. That’s the trouble with this book: It grips and holds.

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Eugen Weber is a contributing writer to Book Review.


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