~~Moved from GR~~
The Lincoln Lawyer
by Michael Connelly
After about 15 books in which defence attorneys are vilified as evil greedy scumbags who use despicable tactics to free their evil guilty scumbag clients, Connelly has finally produced a story told from the perspective of one such evil greedy scumbag, Mickey Haller. Haller, a defence lawyer in LA, has long since given up any idealism of truth and justice in law that he might once have had. No longer able to see any innocence in his clients, he cynically manipulates the system, constantly focused on pride and money rather than justice or truth. When he receives a case of the attempted murder of a prostitute, he is jarred by his suspicion that his client may actually be innocent of the crime. As he begins to investigate, he is confronted with the face of both pure evil and total innocence and is thrown into a morass of moral and ethical questions and self-doubt.
One thing I've found problematic about most of Connelly's stories is that defence lawyers and IAD (Internal Affairs) are constantly vilified, portrayed as immoral bottom-feeders who maliciously inhibit the course of justice, and are literally called the "lowest of the low." At the same time, in every single story in the Bosch series I have read, the police have been guilty of unspeakable corruption. In fact, in all but one, a policeman has been guilty of the crime. This inconsistency has bothered me throughout. Given the corruption Connelly highlights in the police system, it would seem that defence and IAD are completely necessary to ensure justice. Series such as John Mortimer's Rumpole tend to characterize defence lawyers as those upholding justice and defence of the innocent against a corrupt police system. Rumpole truly sees himself as a crusader against a corrupt system, protecting those who are, if not innocent, undeserving of the punishments a rigid and punitive police system wishes to force upon them. Haller on the other hand, is so jaded and cynical that while he may mouth the same platitudes as Rumpole, he repeats them without conviction or belief. The truth, of course, is something in between. This story gave Connelly the perfect opportunity to show the situation from the point of view of the defence. However, although he does highlight some prosecutorial corruption, it tends to be from a position similar to those in the Bosch stories: the prosecution using underhanded tactics to achieve a righteous result. I don't think he really made use of the opportunity to really show why the defence is important: to try to protect innocents unjustly accused of crimes they did not commit.
No matter what he tells himself, no matter how justified he thinks his actions are, I found Haller's actions immoral, self-centred, arrogant, and wrong. He repeatedly decides to avoid due process of law; he claims as narrator that his reasons are just, but they are clearly selfish. His actions cause an incredible amount of damage for those around him. The most striking instance for me was during his defence of his client.
I don't really understand him. I think he's manipulative and wrong and immoral and I think he's about as low down on the antihero scale as he can get.
However, although I don't feel the sympathy, empathy, or connection to Haller that I feel to Bosch, I still find myself liking him against my will. I also found many of the characters around him--his two ex-wives in particular--engaging and sympathetic. As one character says to him,
You're a sleazy defense lawyer with two ex-wifes and an eight-year-old daughter and we all love you.
Also, despite what I see as an impressively narrow-minded bias towards the side of the prosecution, Connelly's description of the LA police system feels both authoritative and well-researched.
I'm amazed at how well Connelly's novels function despite an unsympathetic protagonist. My attention was riveted throughout. Part of that was the structure of the story, part the supporting characters. The villain is incredibly creepy and at several moments, causes the novel's atmosphere to devolve into breathless horror and creeping dread. Most importantly, even though I could not approve of him, Connelly's brilliant characterization made Mickey Haller a sympathetic and very real person, torn and tortured by his own conflicting emotions and desires.