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The Law of Innocence (2020)
Book Reviews

The Law of Innocence (2020)

The Lincoln Lawyer’s sixth solo legal thriller finds him defending his most important client yet: himself.

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The law of innocence is unwritten, Mickey Haller tells us. It’s not found in any codebook and will never be argued in a courtroom. Of course, he does just that in The Law of Innocence, The Lincoln Lawyer’s first solo novel since 2013’s The Gods of Guilt and sixth overall. Only this time the famed defense attorney who operates out of moving vehicles must defend his most important client yet: himself.

Coming just months after Michael Connelly revived journalist Jack McEvoy for a new adventure in Fair Warning, the crime reporter-turned-crime novelist has given patient fans a new chapter in his other, non-Harry Bosch, series set in the growing Connelly-verse to tide them over in a year that could use all the distractions it can get.

Still high off another successful legal victory, Mickey Haller is returning home when a routine traffic stop turns into a real nightmare; a body is discovered in the trunk of his car, and not just any body, but that of Sam Scales, Haller’s former client who still owed him a considerable sum for unpaid services. Before he knows it, he’s charged with first-degree murder and it’s The State of California versus J. Michael Haller, his home – and makeshift office – for the foreseeable future at the Twin Towers Correctional Center in LA.

Haller’s case will be presided over by the Honorable Judge Violet Warfield, herself an ex-defense attorney – though if he thinks that will make her any more sympathetic in the courtroom he’s sadly mistaken. To survive, Haller must plead his case directly to a jury of his peers, not just for the “not guilty” verdict but for complete and total exoneration. “To prove true innocence,” he says, “the guilty man must be found and exposed to the world.” That’s easier said than done, especially if you’re trapped in a high-level prison awaiting the most important trial of your life.

Haller hires fellow inmate Bishop, a Crips-linked gangbanger, to protect him – money well spent considering what might happen otherwise. He assembles his legal team behind bars, including private investigator (and muscle) Dennis “Cisco” Wojciechowski and partner Jennifer Aronson. Volunteering his services is Harry Bosch, Haller’s half-brother, who steps in to connect the dots and help unravel the (alleged) conspiracy that could put Haller away for life. While it’s always nice seeing Bosch show up, the grizzled former detective’s presence here feels like fan-service, an obligatory appearance more to keep the Connelly-verse linked.

Longtime Connelly fans will notice that The Law of Innocence doesn’t just tie into the larger Connelly-verse, it also serves as an indirect sequel to 2011’s The Fifth Witness, bringing back entire characters and subplots involving disgruntled former clients and mob-connected biofuel scams. Obsessed fans might tingle at the mention of Louis Opparizio and Lisa Trammel when their names pop up, but they’re also reminders this universe isn’t static, and the days of the single-case thriller may be long behind us.

More than its predecessors, The Law of Innocence is heavy on the lawyering, our hero spending much of his time actually in court and arguing like his life depends on it, which it does. Expect plenty of “objections!” and slow trudges through procedural motions and legal strategies. These moments can be either thrilling or meandering, especially when Haller, via Connelly, sounds like he’s regurgitating a defense attorney’s dream dialogue most of the time.

Connelly also (very) briefly flirts with commentary on the subject of bail bonds and how they favor the financially privileged, but little comes from these dalliances with social justice as the larger implications seem to be Haller, as a defense attorney protecting clients who’ve also been charged with murder, could stand to be a little less nonchalant with their situations, perhaps a little more sympathetic to their plight and a little less self-congratulatory. Connelly isn’t John Grisham, so don’t expect much emotional payoff from these moral hypotheticals.

There’s also the ever-present encroachment of something we’ve all become far too familiar with in 2020, and that’s the inescapable presence of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Connelly weaves its appearance in slowly at first, from news headlines about a “mystery virus” from China or having characters don facial masks, though even these moments feel peppered in to ground the story in the real world, whatever that is anymore.

Remember, in Connelly’s literary universe the 2011 The Lincoln Lawyer movie, starring Matthew McConaughey, exists and is based on the “real” Mickey Haller. There’s even talk about a Lincoln Lawyer series, though whether it’ll be connected to Amazon’s Bosch series remains to be seen, so expect even more meta-fun in this growing sandbox in the future.

Obviously, books are written well in advance of their publication and, given how quickly Connelly churns out his various Connelly-verse novels, there’s no doubt most, if not all, of this latest Mickey Haller adventure existed before the pandemic was in full swing, which is why the moments its mentioned feel so tacked on and arbitrary. It just would have been nice to have a little escape from our reality, even if that means retreating into the world of sausage factory legal fiction and spending a few hours with some familiar characters.

Another is the more obvious, less avoidable elephant in the room, and that’s how the ending must, inevitably, conclude for this series to keep running. I concede that even the most cynical reader would probably guess correctly how the events here play out, but it’s the mechanism by which Connelly lays out the process that will satisfy – or disappoint – fans who may understand the need for the sausage factory to keep producing those delicious sausages.

With the Lincoln Lawyer series anxious fans might fear that Connelly is encroaching into John Grisham territory, but they needn’t worry. The Law of Innocence continues to demonstrate that Connelly’s definition of a legal thriller is far more clinical, more procedural, than anything Grisham has published in years, dissecting the legal profession like a magician eager to reveal his secrets to the audience. The “magic” isn’t the illusion, but marveling at the ingenuity of how the trick itself is pulled off, the ability to lay bare the conclusion we know is coming. Connelly generally satisfies here, even though we know how things must, inevitably, end.

About the Author: Trent McGee