The Gods of Guilt
- Michael Connelly
- Little Brown
- 608 pp.
- Reviewed by Lawrence De Maria
- February 10, 2014
In the latest “Lincoln Lawyer” crime novel, L.A. defense attorney Mickey Haller takes on a particularly disreputable client.
Michael Connelly takes the name of his new novel, The Gods of Guilt, from a phrase that lawyers in Los Angeles allegedly use when referring to jury members, who act as “gods” when they sit in judgment.
Admittedly, jurors wield an awesome responsibility. They are a revered symbol and a necessity of the American system of justice in the minuscule number of criminal cases involving a jury trial. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 5 percent of crimes — state and federal — wind up before a jury; most are reduced through bargaining to lesser offenses and resolved by guilty pleas.
It’s not as if “Murder One” gets whittled down to jaywalking, but I can’t help feeling there is something wrong with glorifying a system so rarely used. Apparently, you have to be pretty desperate (or innocent) to leave your fate in the hands of 12 people too dumb to get out of jury duty. (No angry letters please; I’ve served on a couple of criminal juries.)
I’ve long been a fan of Connelly’s Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch police procedurals, which typically pit Harry and his “murder book” against loathsome killers and an entrenched and sometimes equally loathsome L.A. police bureaucracy. The author of 30 books that have sold a gazillion copies worldwide, Connelly, a crime reporter who cut his journalistic teeth in Florida during the bloody cocaine wars in the 1980s, branched out from Harry Bosch with The Lincoln Lawyer. That novel introduced Mickey Haller, a brash, flawed, but terrifically competent L.A. defense attorney who does much of his work from the back seat of his chauffeured Town Car. (Matthew McConaughey portrayed Haller in the movie of the same name and did a superb job.) The Gods of Guilt is the fifth “Lincoln Lawyer” novel. It follows The Fifth Witness, in which Haller, sick of defense work, ran for district attorney, with disastrous personal and professional consequences.
Haller would seem to be the antithesis, if not the mortal and moral enemy, of Bosch — who hates criminals and those who defend them — but for the fact that they are half-brothers (who didn’t know that for most of their lives). Bosch plays major roles in earlier “Lincoln Lawyer” books, but he has only a non-crucial cameo part in The Gods of Guilt. Probably just as well, because Haller, who specializes in defending high-profile murder suspects (that’s where the big money is), has a particularly disreputable client: Andre La Cosse, an Internet-savvy pimp accused of killing a hooker. To complicate matters, the dead hooker was once a reclamation project of Haller. Since he believes his client is innocent (not a typical situation), he wants to get the real killer.
Adding to Haller’s angst, he is estranged from a daughter he loves, because of a tragedy that arose from his actions in The Fifth Witness. Perhaps by doing the right thing in this case, he can somehow make amends.
The Gods of Guilt is not a yuck fest. Connelly’s view of the world, as befits someone who probably saw too many body parts in Florida, is decidedly jaundiced. Laughs are nonexistent and smiles are as limited as jury challenges. (Here’s one smile: So many lawyers have tried to emulate the notorious Mickey Haller that Lincolns are lined up outside the courthouse and he has been known to get into the wrong Town Car.)
Like many of the people he is forced to associate with, Mickey Haller is not a nice guy. He is not above coaching an obviously guilty client into going berserk in court to win a mistrial. Mickey even has an extra shirt on hand to replace the one stained by the fake blood he and his client used in their little show.
But if you ARE innocent, and one of the rare defendants willing to take a chance with a real, live jury of your “peers,” Mickey Haller is the guy you want at your side. He and his team, which includes an ex-wife and her new husband, know how to investigate. They are relentless and innovative (and, unfortunately for one of them, vulnerable). In the courtroom, Mickey can run rings around even the most tenacious prosecutors, crooked cops, drug kingpins, recalcitrant witnesses and tough judges — and The Gods of Guilt has a surfeit of them.
I would like to see Mickey Haller (and for that matter, Harry Bosch) carry around a little less baggage and back story in future novels. The procedural and courtroom scenes are the best part of this and other Connelly thrillers, because they are genuinely thrilling. Fewer people would try to avoid jury duty if they knew they’d get a case Mickey Haller was defending.
Lawrence De Maria, a former reporter for the New York Times whose work was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, has written nine thrillers and mysteries, including the recently released The Viron Conspiracy. They are available on Amazon.com.