The Law of Innocence is Michael Connelly’s thirty-fifth novel. There’s not a single clunker among them, but this is one of his best. It’s Connelly’s sixth book starring defense attorney Mickey Haller, the first being The Lincoln Lawyer (2005). Haller has also appeared in a number of books in the long-running series featuring his half-brother, police detective Harry Bosch, now retired but active as a freelancer. Bosch plays a small but important role in this new book. Like Balzac’s Comédie humaine, Connelly’s novels make up one vast saga of crime and punishment, bureaucracy and domesticity, friendship and enmity, marriage and divorce, cohabitation and casual liaisons, parents and children, and more, centering mostly in Los Angeles and its satellite communities but also occasionally venturing farther afield.
“Moral complexity” is often a euphemism for muddle or evasion, but not so in Connelly’s case. Consider the event that sets his new novel in motion. I’m not giving too much away (you know I am loath to do that!) to tell you that someone with a longstanding grudge against Mickey Haller kills a man Haller has represented in the past (a scammer whom the murderer has his own reasons to want dead) and plants the body in the trunk of Haller’s car. Haller is arrested and charged with murder. As the case unfolds—Haller, of course, will represent himself in court, aided by his trusted team—we learn how this murder connects with a trial nine years earlier, a case that raises questions about the morality of the defense attorney’s role: Is it truly a noble act, when representing someone guilty of murder (though her guilt has not yet been confirmed beyond a doubt), to point the finger at someone else (a person quite capable of murder but not guilty of this particular crime)?
Haller’s own trial doesn’t actually begin until page 278 of this 421-page book, though it’s preceded by various contentious preliminary hearings, so a great deal of time is devoted to Haller and his team (including Bosch) trying to figure out what actually happened and then planning his defense accordingly. “The only way to prove I didn’t do it,” Haller observes, “is to prove who did. That’s the law of innocence.” Thanks to maneuvering by the prosecution, led by Dana Berg, “the Major Crimes Unit star prosecutor” (who is utterly convinced that Haller is guilty), Haller spends almost all the time between his arrest and the trial in custody at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown LA.
Apart from ratcheting up the tension with a clever plot device, Connelly has another purpose here. Stripped of his usual perks, Haller is subject to the routinely degrading treatment prisoners receive. It doesn’t come as a shock to him—he has been well aware of it—but it’s powerful nonetheless. It deepens his already deep sense of revulsion for the excessive power vested in the state (so easily abused, whether by cops on the beat or by the higher-ups) and his commitment as an advocate for the accused (even when he isn’t on trial himself!). Nothing here equates to the sentimentalizing of crime and criminals that’s so fashionable today, but that makes it all the more persuasive—as when Haller, in need of a driver during his brief respite from confinement, hires a former cellmate (not the first time he’s taken a chance on an ex-con).
As is true of other books in the genre, including the previous ones in the Haller series, much of the appeal of The Law of Innocence derives from the cut and thrust of argument, whether in the courtroom itself (in the preliminary hearings and then, at last, in the trial) or in the conversations Haller has with his team. It is hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t relish a good argument enjoying this book. But for those who do, myself very much included, Connelly provides a feast—not only in Haller’s duel with Berg but also in the interactions between the two of them and Judge Warfield (an African American woman who started as a defense attorney), a formidable character in her own right. And then there’s “Maggie McFierce,” the nickname for Maggie McPherson, one of Haller’s two ex-wives, herself a formidable prosecutor, who crosses the aisle for this special occasion and plays a critical role in Haller’s defense.
“A trial,” Haller reflects, while still preparing for the showdown, “often comes down to who is a better storyteller, the prosecution or the defense. There is evidence, of course, but physical evidence is at first interpreted for the jury by the storyteller.” Maybe that explains in part why this book is so good: Haller himself is the creation of a storyteller extraordinaire, one who could give Scheherazade a run for her money.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books.
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