‘Lincoln’ Navigates Through World of Moral Ambiguity

“The Lincoln Lawyer” can be described as the anti-John Grisham novel. All those idealistic, Wonderbread-eating young lawyers and greedy, cigarette-manufacturing corporations are nowhere to be found—they both must be strictly Southern things.

Instead, crime master Michael Connelly tells the story of flawed individuals who confront and triumph over extraordinary evil despite their character failings. The good swirls together with the bad in Connelly’s Los Angeles as inseparable as the strawberries and the yogurt in Yoplait. There are no heroes, just people who sometimes act heroically.

This morally ambiguous world populated by the imperfect is resonant and real—and it is vintage Connelly. Bitter detectives, sympathetic thieves, and model citizens-cum-pedophiles pervade the former journalist’s other books, almost all of which have been bestsellers.

Not surprisingly, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Connelly’s first foray into the legal thriller genre, has been just as successful, and its popularity is well deserved.

The protagonist is a defense attorney who worries less about guilt and innocence than about exploiting technicalities and getting paid. Mickey Haller makes his living threading the loopholes of a tattered justice system, setting marijuana growers and fraud artists free—as long as the perpetrators can cough up the thousand-dollar fees.

Yet, Haller is not “bad” but rather, “complicated”: he makes one client’s mother bleed her retirement fund, but he also hires a former felon as a driver, giving the young man a chance to go straight. Haller is an intriguing character and easily one of the finest Connelly has ever constructed.

The novel benefits from the author’s knowledge of details about the lurid legal arena. Connelly thanks several defense attorneys in his acknowledgements, and he writes that he observed proceedings in a courtroom—it shows. Haller glibly throws around jargon and tactics familiar to “defense pros,” and the novel’s exposition is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a skilled defense lawyer.

That life implodes when Haller is retained by Louis Ross Roulet, a rich realtor accused of violently beating up a call girl. Appearances are deceptive, and as Haller probes deeper, he suddenly finds that he must play the unusual role of upholding justice. He is a ruthless defense attorney who must be the hero, and Haller courageously rises to the occasion even as a savage, only-in-LA sociopath threatens to destroy him and his loved ones.

As it turns out, you do not need to be young or idealistic to do the right thing.

You just need to be a lawyer.

—Staff writer David Zhou can be reached at dzhou@fas.harvard.edu.

The Lincoln Lawyer
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown & Company
Out Now