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New & Noteworthy (Sort of): Not Your Father’s Legal Thriller

Connelly, Michael. The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2005 [PS 3553 .051165 .L56 2005]

The law library doesn’t buy a lot of fiction. Still we do purchase the occasional legal based novel and of course the latest legal thriller (Grisham/Turow/etc.) So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when, a few years ago, I read a review of The Lincoln Lawyer, I decided it was an appropriate addition to our library. Connelly is perhaps best known as being one of Bill Clinton’s favorite writers and he had a string of successful “hard boiled” detective novels published in the 1990s. A fan of the like of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, Connelly’s writing is as rough as 24 grit sandpaper. The Lincoln Lawyer, his first jump into the legal thriller genre, is no exception.

Purchased by the library when it was new, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until I bought a paperback edition in an airport. Maybe it helped that I was flying home from L.A., where the novel is based, but by the time I landed in Indy I was 3/4 done and almost ready to read the rest in the frozen airport parking lot. I had been hooked with the opening paragraph:

The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you’ll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste of promise on it. When it starts blowing in like that I like to keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The bondsman, not the baseball pitcher.

The lawyer in the title is Mick Haller; the Lincoln is a reference to the car that serves as his office. His clients are the lowest of the low in the Los Angeles County court system – drug addicts, prostitutes, con-artists, sex offenders and the occasional murder. Others lawyers may have problems defending these outcasts, Mick doesn’t.

There was nothing about the law that I cherished anymore. The law school notion about virtue of the adversarial system, of the system’s checks and balances, of the search for truth, had long since eroded like the faces of statutes from other civilizations. The law was not about truth. It was about negotiation, amelioration, manipulation. I didn’t deal in guilt or innocence, because everybody was guilty. Of something. But it didn’t matter, because every case I took on was a house built on a foundation poured by overworked and underpaid laborers. They cut corners. They made mistakes. And then they painted over the mistakes with lies. My job was to peel away the paint and find the cracks. To work my fingers and tools in those cracks and widen them. To make them so big that either the house fell down or, failing that, my client slipped through.

Much of society thought of me as the devil but they were wrong. I was a greasy angel. I was the true road saint. I was needed and wanted. By both sides. I was the oil in the machine. I allowed the gears to crank and turn. I helped keep the engine of the system running.

I won’t bore you with the details of the plot. Go the shelves, pull it off, open it up, read it.

NOTE: Connelly will be the Guest of Honor at this fall’s Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in Indianapolis. You can learn more at: http://www.bouchercon2009.com/introduction.html



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