'The Brass Verdict' by Michael Connelly

Legal twists charge new thriller

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Michael Connelly has had a string of best-selling crime novels, mostly featuring Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch, a Los Angeles police detective, loner and a man with a grim view of the human scene.

In this novel, Bosch plays a minor but important role. The central figure is Mickey Haller, a criminal lawyer who practices law out of a Lincoln automobile.


By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown ($26.99)


Haller is unaware that he is Bosch's half brother, a relationship mentioned briefly in the early novel, "Black Ice."

Like Bosch, Haller is disillusioned but expert at his job, which is usually helping guilty people avoid prison. Sometimes he even feels bad about it.

In "The Brass Verdict," slang for a bullet that settles a case, Haller returns after a year turning his personal life into a disaster.

Drug addiction and recovery, two divorces and a neglected relationship with his daughter leave him shaken in his health and self-confidence.

But the murder of another criminal lawyer, Jerry Vincent, who left Haller his clients, gives him the opportunity to return to his practice and turn his life around.

One of those clients is Walter Elliot, the celebrity owner of a Hollywood film studio, who is accused of killing his wife and her lover, an interior decorator who had designs on more than the house.

Elliot's $250,000 payment for services will make life possible for Haller, his secretary (and second ex-wife), and the investigators he relies on -- if Elliot decides to continue the relationship.

Indeed the first part of the novel is devoted to the legal steps and tactics involved in keeping clients, taking over a practice and gearing up for the big case.

Complications are provided by Bosch and the LAPD investigating the Vincent murder and the FBI looking for corruption in the judicial system.

Minor, unrelated cases are also introduced and they allow us to see Haller's character and legal chops.

When the focus narrows to the preparation for Elliot's trial and the trial itself, further problems emerge, including Elliot's unexpectedly casual attitude toward preparation, threats to Haller and a rumor of jury tampering.

Jury impaneling and the trial are tense and dramatic, showing Haller with all his skills and tricks in operation. But he's not a one-man show. Connelly shows us how important the work of private investigators and a secret juror consultant can be.

In fact the book isn't really about character. Haller is the strongest of the lot and he is far from complex.

The others, even Bosch, are there as vehicles for the well-paced, complex plot.

You could call it "Agatha Christie noir" since there are some improbable occurrences, which give final shape to the plot.

But unlike Christie, Connelly adds anecdotes and realistic details, some funny and some horrifying, about lawyers and trials. He even gives use some slang from the mean streets, like the title of this tale.

Connelly has all the right stuff for another best seller.

Michael Helfand teaches English literature at the University of Pittsburgh.


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