RSS Feed

Category Archives: michael connelly

When Harry Met Mickey: Two Michael Connelly Novels

Book #24 for 2011: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
Book #25 for 2011: The Overlook by Michael Connelly

It’s been a month since I last filed one of these book reports and there’s a reason for that. I ran into a book, one that I’d really been looking forward to reading, that stopped me dead in my tracks. At some point I realized that I’d been reading the book for nearly four weeks and wasn’t even halfway through it. I was having trouble forcing myself to read more than 20 pages a day without developing either a strong urge to sleep or an overwhelming compulsion to play a computer game. I eventually decided that I needed a break from the book and that I should find a book that was both shorter (the book I was reading was a 900-plus page monster) and more readable.

The last time something like this happened, I turned to the generally reliable Stephen King to jumpstart my reading habit. But King has a huge book of his own coming out in a few days and I don’t want to become glutted on his writing style before I get a chance to read it. So I thought instead of Michael Connelly, whose courtroom thriller The Lincoln Lawyer had turned out to be both readable and entertaining when I picked it up earlier this year.

This time I randomly selected his 2008 novel The Brass Verdict, which by sheer coincidence turned out to be a direct sequel to The Lincoln Lawyer. It’s the second book featuring lawyer Mickey Haller and begins with Haller returning to legal practice after a hiatus brought about by the events that ended The Lincoln Lawyer, which introduced the character. Reading about Haller was almost as much fun this time as it was the first and once again Connelly gave the impression of knowing a lot of stuff about being a criminal attorney that doesn’t find its way into legal textbooks. The Brass Verdict is a short, fast read, has a twisty plot, and an array of interesting characters, the most interesting of which is once again the very engaging Mr. Haller. Another of the characters, in a kind of literary crossover, is LAPD detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch, who has played the leading role in a lengthy series of novels that seem to form much of the basis for Connelly’s reputation as a crime writer. (I eventually realized that this was the novel that Amy’s brother, himself a Connelly fan, had once jokingly referred to as When Harry Met Mickey.)

I figured since Detective Bosch has figured so prominently in Connelly’s career that I really ought to read one of the novels where he’s the star rather than just a supporting player for Haller. So once again more or less at random I chose the 2007 novel The Overlook, in which a murder investigation involving Bosch becomes tangled up in a terrorism investigation involving the FBI. I wish I could say that The Overlook was as entertaining as the two Mickey Haller novels that I’ve read, but I can’t. Despite a mildly clever twist ending that I should have seen coming but didn’t, it’s really little more than a standard police procedural, written in the flat, toneless prose that so many of these sorts of books have (I wonder if I’d feel that way about Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct procedurals if I read one of them today?) and lacking the spark of interesting characters and inside revelations that make the Haller books so engaging. I think there are two reasons that, so far, I prefer the Haller books to the Bosch books. The first is that the Bosch books are told in the third person, which for many authors works well but in Connelly’s prose tends to distance the reader from the action, while the Haller novels are narrated in the first person, letting Haller’s lively narrative voice lift the story a bit out of the realm of the ordinary. The second is that, well, Connelly has written a hell of a lot of books about Harry Bosch and may well have told all the stories about him that really deserve to be told. At some later point I may read one or two of the earlier Bosch novels, to see if he was more interesting back in, say, the 1990s.

In the meantime I’m going to take another crack at that massive novel I put down in order to read these two. If I finish it, I may even tell you what it is.

Advertisements

The (Not Quite) Lost Art of Crime Writing: Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer

Book #16 for 2011: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

When I was in my 20s, I followed the work of several crime and mystery writers. Not just the classic hardboiled writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and drawing room mystery writers like Agatha Christie, but several modern (for that period) authors: Ross MacDonald, whose Lew Archer mysteries always started with the eponymous detective being hired to track down a runaway child or bride but ended with the discovery of the dark and tragic secret history of some Southern California family; Ed McBain, whose 87th Precinct procedurals were so breezy and compulsively readable that I’d sometimes go through two or three in a day; and Donald Westlake, whose Dortmunder series was a bit too repetitive for my tastes but whose standalone crime novels combined a darkly comic sensibility with a gift for Hitchcockian chase thrillers.

And then I sort of lost interest, both in reading novels in general and in reading mysteries in particular. By the 1990s I was seeing the names of new crime fiction writers appear regularly on the bestseller shelf at my local drugstore, names like Harlan Coben, Lee Child, John Sandford, George Pelecanos, James Patterson…and Michael Connelly. When I would grow curious about one of these authors and sample their work, I was usually disappointed. Much of what they produced seemed slight and superficial, or just a bit trite, compared to the mysteries I’d read when I was young. (See my earlier nasty comments about the novels of Lee Child.) But I figured that, somewhere among them, there must be one or two authors who actually knew how to write decent crime fiction.

Michael Connelly came highly recommended. Stephen King, an author I respect, seems to tout Connelly’s work every chance he gets. Amy’s brother has an entire shelf of autographed books by Connelly. And The Lincoln Lawyer was made into a fairly well received movie earlier this year. So I decided to give him a chance.

And what do you know? He’s not bad. The Lincoln Lawyer certainly towers above anything I’ve read by Lee Child and I found it meatier than the Carl Hiaasen novel I read earlier this year. It’s not perfect. The characters tend toward stock figures, albeit fairly well-drawn stock figures, but the novel has three things about it that work very much in its favor.

The first is that Connelly clearly knows a great deal about how the law works, and not just the textbook way in which the justice system is supposed to function, but the way it functions in practice, with lawyers making shady deals and pulling the wool over their client’s eyes with legalistic sleight of hand. Judging from the acknowledgments at the end, this isn’t because Connelly has any law experience of his own but because he interviewed a lot of lawyers and even, yes, judges before he wrote this book. (It’s also possible that Connelly is very good at making up the kind of things that people are talking about when they say “you can’t make that stuff up.”)

The second is that he has a very good plot twist that goes off almost exactly in the middle of the novel, one that completely turns the story around and lets the reader know that the story they thought they were going to read is quite the opposite of the story they’re actually going to get.

The third is the main character, Mickey Haller, who narrates the novel in the first person. This was the first in a series of novels that Connelly has been writing about Haller, a sleazebag criminal lawyer who discovers belatedly that he has a conscience. It’s Haller who tells the reader about all the shady tricks that lawyers play and Haller who rises above the stock character threshold. Not that some genre cliches don’t slip into Haller’s life. He has the requisite ex-wife who chides him about not spending enough time with his daughter, with the twist that the ex-wife is also a prosecutor who he sometimes faces off against in court.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a fast, entertaining read and if I were still in my 20s I’d probably decide that Connelly is the sort of writer I could read several books by in a day. But, seriously, who over the age of 30 has the time or the attention span for that kind of thing? I know I don’t.