Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Lincoln Lawyer Series, by Michael Connelly

When I was in high school, I was convinced I was going to be a lawyer.  Specifically, a Crown prosecutor.  I think a major contributing factor to this career path was Jack “Hang ‘em High” McCoy – the ADA character from Law and Order.  In McCoy’s world, right and wrong were clearly delineated and things were (for the most part) simple: bad guys went to jail for as long as possible and anyone who got in McCoy’s way would be held responsible in some part for the crime.  I have a very black and white world view – my boss comments on it all the time – so McCoy fit into that perfectly, and I was going to follow in his foot steps.

So what happened?  During the first year of my undergraduate degree, I bought a practice LSAT book.  I spend 15 or 20 minutes on the first question and was reduced to tears.  I couldn’t figure out what the question wanted, or how I was supposed to find an answer.  It’s taken me years, but I realize now that my thought processes just don’t accommodate the LSAT way of thinking.  Needless to say, the experience tanked my desire to practice law thoroughly.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy Law and Order or reading crime novels.  

All that brings me to my latest reads, the Lincoln Lawyer series by Michael Connelly.  Currently published are The Lincoln Lawyer, the Brass Verdict, The Reversal, and The Fifth Witness.  There’s a fifth book coming out later on this year. 

This series is centered around defense attorney Mickey Haller.  Mickey, as a character, is incredibly engaging.  He is charming, intelligent, and principled.  It’s hard to reconcile such a great guy with the role of a defense attorney; Mickey’s clients are drug dealers, gang members and murderers.  And yet, because he is principled, he does his best for his clients within the existing system.  There are moments where Mickey has crises of conscious, but he always comes back from them with to two facts: 1- the justice system requires that the accused be given a fair and equal opportunity to present their case, and 2- if he didn’t represent them, someone else will.  Mickey is incredibly likeable, even to the point that you can overlook the fact that he’s a defense attorney which, until I read these books, I always considered to be the worst of the worst of society.

Each book in the series focuses on a particular case that Mickey is working.  This gives the reader a chance to view how a defense attorney might put together everything from a jury box, to a witness list, to an alternate theory.  Not all books hit on all aspects of a defense attorney’s role with the same level of details, but each book provides the insight required to reach the verdict for the client, and it’s indicative of Connelly’s deft hand that he’s not repetitive in each book.

In terms of writing style, Connelly is fabulous.  The books are fast paced, all the characters are strong, and the dénouement is fluid and believable.  One of my favorite aspects to the books are the side stories to the main event – written in the first person, Mickey often tells the readers stories about his past experiences or other case he’s heard of that are ridiculously hilarious.  These become insights to the larger legal system, and while they don’t always develop the plot, they are lighthearted additions to the books.

The fact that the voice of the books is the first person is, I think, what makes them so engaging and interesting.  It helps tremendously with the character development of Mickey and it adds to his charm and panache.  In The Reversal, Connelly switches between the first person narration of Mickey and a third person narration of Harry Bosch (one of his other famous characters) to tell the story, and I think the book (and series) suffers immensely from this decision – it’s still well written, it’s still interesting, but it’s missing that spark that the other books in the series have.  It had the potential of being the most interesting case that Mickey tackles (and the most interesting way he tackles a case ever), but that potential was lost in splitting the readers’ attention.  Regardless, I won’t hold it against Connelly.

So, final verdict?  (Ha ha!  I just realized what I did there….)  I’d say read these books.  They are great beach-blanket reading for the summer, and a great escape for the rest of the year.  Who knows, maybe like me, these books will give you a new perspective on what it means to be a defense attorney.

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