The Brass Verdict

By Michael Connelly.

Little, Brown. 432 pp. $26.99


Reviewed by Paul Davis


Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a courtroom of lies.

This cynical verdict on the American justice system opens Michael Connelly's new thriller.

The view belongs to the narrator of the novel, Mickey Haller, a character first introduced in Connelly's

The Lincoln Lawyer

. In describing his role as a defense attorney, Haller tells us that his job is to wait for the lie he can grab on to and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. He then uses that blade to rip the case open - without mercy or conscience.

"That's my job," Haller explains: "To be the truth in a place where everybody lies."

When Hollywood lawyer Jerry Vincent is murdered in his parking garage, a judge assigns Haller to Vincent's pending cases, including the sensational murder trial of Walter Elliot, a movie mogul accused of murdering his young wife and her lover. The trial has garnered major media attention, much like the frenzied Hollywood murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector.

Haller is an unusual attorney who conducts his legal business in his Lincoln Town Car - hence the previous book's title,

The Lincoln Lawyer

- rather than an office. There are nearly 40 courthouses throughout the sprawling 450 square miles of Los Angeles County, so Haller finds it advantageous to work out of his car while on the go.

A former client works off his legal fees by acting as chauffeur, and Haller sits in the back, working on the phone and his laptop computer. He keeps his current files in the trunk and a wireless fax on the front passenger seat. Haller meets with his clients in court and in jail.

While preparing for Elliot's murder trial, Haller is contacted by Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, the homicide detective investigating Vincent's murder. Bosch warns Haller that he may also be targeted by Vincent's killer, and Haller cooperates with the detective up to a point. Walking an ethical tightrope, Haller agrees to act as bait to draw out the killer.

Bosch, Connelly's popular long-running series character, is named after the 15th-century artist, who, in Connelly's words, created "chaotic, world-gone-mad paintings." Bosch, an orphan, Vietnam veteran, and veteran detective, sees the world in much the same way as his namesake. Bosch is presented in this novel from Haller's point of view.

Unlike Scott Turow, Lisa Scottoline and other lawyers who write legal thrillers, Connelly is a former Los Angeles Times reporter, not an attorney who can rely on a legal background. But as a reporter, he has done his research and interviewed lawyers in order to bring a gritty realism to the novel. Connelly said he met a lawyer at a baseball game who told him he worked out of his car, and from that conversation Mickey Haller was born.

While Bosch, a police detective, works for the prosecution, and Haller for the defense, the two characters are flip sides of the same coin. Connelly has said he wanted to give readers a glimpse at the back doors of the American justice system. In pairing his lawyer and detective characters, he offers a suspenseful tale of a sensational celebrity murder trial, as well as a peripheral murder investigation.

As for the title, it will be obvious to lifelong students of crime and crime fiction. Most other readers will have to read this suspenseful tale to the end to have its meaning revealed.

Paul Davis' crime fiction and "Crime Beat" column can be found at www.orchardpressmysteries.com. He can be reached at daviswrite@aol.com