“Your father always called the jurors the ‘gods of guilt.’”, octogenarian David “Legal” Siegel tells his young confidant Mickey Haller, so-named as they decide guilty or not guilty, simultaneously giving the hero of Michael Connelly’s latest legal thriller its name as well as a quick lesson in self-analysis. “The gods of guilt are many.” Siegel tells him. “You don’t need to add to them.”
Haller, notorious for working out of his Lincoln Town Car, is back in action in The Gods of Guilt, the fifth in Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer series. Following 2011’s The Fifth Witness, where a run at district attorney fell apart when Sandy Patterson and her daughter Katie were killed by a client Haller helped set free. They’ve become his own “gods of guilt”, haunting his every moment. Now even his ex-wife and teenage daughter want little to do with him, leaving him a man in need of serious redemption.
We first find Haller defending Leonard Watts, dubbed the “Bumper Car Bandit” for his penchant of targeting woman then bumping into their cars, robbing them at gunpoint. When all seems lost Haller pulls a maneuver he probably didn’t learn in school, one that may help his client but cares little for his victims. It’s clear Haller hasn’t changed much, but he’s still damn good at what he does.
Things start looking up when a call puts him on the case of Andre La Cosse, a “digital pimp” who helped match online Johns with escorts, now accused of murdering one of his clients. Curiously, it turns out Haller came highly recommended by the woman La Cosse supposedly murdered, Giselle Dallinger. At first the name isn’t familiar o Haller, but a little investigating reveals the deceased is none other than former client Gloria Dayton, the prostitute Haller tried to help reform during the events of the original Haller novel, The Lincoln Lawyer.
La Cosse could be that rarest of things – an innocent man – and just the case to help Haller get back on the right side of justice. Contrition aside, that Haller could marinate in guilt for a mother and daughter whose death he feels responsible for and yet continue to subvert the law to help free obviously guilty – and quite dangerous – criminals rings shallow. Yes, the opening scene would make great cinema (and probably will), but Connelly’s attempts to recast Haller from lovable scoundrel to something higher feels a bit crass. Complex reinvention may be a necessary evil for any character with long term aspirations and deeper psychological underpinnings, but such a thing may be too soon for this defense attorney.
Shallowness aside, Connelly keeps this show running like a well-oiled clock, a reminder why his workmanlike style has become one of the most reliable voices in the genre, zipping along at a brisk and enjoyable clip that never quits. Unlike his series of Harry Bosch novels Connelly never burdens readers with the intricacies of criminal investigation, nor does he make them wade through endless legalese. The case has enough twists and turns to keep fans of both characters gripped to the last page, though don’t expect anything deeper than what it aims to be.
Speaking of Bosch, Connelly’s other hero (and Haller’s half-brother) makes a fun, if obligatory, cameo at just the right time. There’s plenty of wink-winks and indulgent nods towards Connelly’s expanding universe, one that seems to exist outside its own literary trappings; in this world the film version of The Lincoln Lawyer exists, and the name Matthew McConaughey becomes its own inside joke. How very meta.