One of the best things about immersing yourself in the world of Mickey Haller is his riveting voice. In recounting his ongoing legal and personal adventures and misadventures in the “City of Angels,’’ the defense attorney and central character of Michael Connelly’s popular Lincoln lawyer series maintains a refreshingly straightforward, confiding, engaging tone, and never shies away from revealing his vulnerable moments and uncertainties. Without drifting into a sea of sentimentality, Haller exposes his soft underbelly as a legal eagle, a twice-divorced-yet-hopeful lover, and a dad.
In Connelly’s latest murder mystery, “The Gods of Guilt,” Haller gets pulled into a case when one of his former clients — someone he’s always had a soft spot for — turns up dead.
Complicating his life at the moment is the fact that his 16-year-old daughter Hayley is currently on the outs with him because of his successful defense of a repeat-offender drunk driver who subsequently killed a mother and daughter. These days Haller has to secretly watch Hayley’s soccer practice through binoculars.
And Haller respects her anger toward him, a reflection of the thin line on which he dances day after day, as he juggles not just a myriad of cases but a too-often dubious lineup of clients as well: “My roster included the carjacker who targeted old ladies, an accused date rapist, an embezzler who took money from a student trip fund, and various other societal miscreants.”
And the moral murkiness is not confined to his clients. Haller himself is certainly not above using crafty courtroom moves — the discreetly titled “Marco Polo,” the more gruesomely described “bloody flag move” — engineered specifically to encourage a trial to go a certain way. But when he spies an injustice, a compellingly unanswered question or a client in clear distress, he pursues matters with single-minded focus and more than a modicum of compassion.
From the moment that Haller receives notification of the potential murder case — what appears to be a fatal altercation between a prostitute who offered “Pretty Woman Specials’’ and her website manager — he finds himself taking on a case that reaches back into his past as well as across the Machiavellian layers of federal and local law-enforcement infrastructure and the tangled web of prison life.
Fans will find much familiar here, with Haller working out of his town car as per usual, parking outside of Starbucks not just for a cup of joe but for the free WiFi, and armed with his trusty clip-on tie for professional occasions (and so that he can’t be pulled though jail-cell bars when he visits his more irate clients). Be assured there will be kibitzing over LA’s best deli sandwiches with his unofficial adviser and mentor, David “Legal” Siegel in Siegel’s nursing home, and Haller, despite being embroiled in a career-making case, will manage to fit in a flirty, romantic dalliance along the way.
There’s a friendly, two-ships-passing-in-the-courthouse moment with his half-brother Detective Harry Bosch, and several very funny asides acknowledging the effect of the real-world release of the 2011 film “The Lincoln Lawyer.” It seems that Haller’s vehicular workplace has struck an inspirational chord, and LA is now peppered with a fleet of other lawyers’ Lincolns lingering outside courthouses, cramping Haller’s style and putting him in constant danger of hopping into the wrong one.
Haller, however, is in no danger of being downsized anytime soon. The more he delves into the complex mystery at hand, the higher the stakes get, leading deftly into a highly-satisfying courtroom drama payoff in which Haller homes in not just on the specifics of a dark and far-reaching criminal case but on his own priorities as well. For the Lincoln lawyer, sweating the detailed small stuff is paramount. This latest outing offers unfettered pleasure to regular readers, and a terrific introduction to new ones.
Daneet Steffens is a journalist and book critic. Follow her on Twitter @daneetsteffens.