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The Police found Louis Roulet unconscious on the floor, with a knife by his side and his left hand smeared with blood. The prostitute, who had called 911, said that Roulet, her john, had gone berserk. The Beverly Hills realtor had beaten her up and tried to rape her; she’d knocked him out in self-defense. When he came to, Roulet said he was being framed. Somebody else had attacked the hooker before he got there and then bashed him with a vodka bottle when he walked in. What really happened? That’s for criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller to find out. Most whodunits star detectives or private eyes, but legal thrillers star, well, lawyers. Perhaps that’s why, while crime novels have been around for decades, legal thrillers have only become more popular as society has gotten more litigious. The first breakout hit was Scott Turow’s 1987 best-seller Presumed Innocent. His novel about a trial lawyer on trial for the murder of his mistress delved into the inner workings of the legal system. But it wasn’t just courtroom dramas that caught readers’ attention. In 1991 John Grisham’s The Firm � about a corrupt law firm with Mafiosi ties � perched on the New York Times best-seller list for 47 weeks. Since then the field has exploded with titles. Crime novelist Michael Connelly’s first legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer, stands out. Renowned for his series of books starring LAPD detective Harry Bosch, here Connelly introduces wise-guy hero Mickey Haller. The defense attorney is a “greasy angel,” a good guy who defends bad guys. He has to hustle for clients: He advertises his services on bus benches in bad neighborhoods and bribes bail bondsmen at Christmas. The job doesn’t pay particularly well, either; his Lincoln Town Car serves as his law office. But Haller is nonetheless devoted to exploiting the justice system’s loopholes on behalf of his (primarily) guilty clientele. The Lincoln Lawyer is a page-turner. The writing is fast-paced. The plot twists in unexpected ways, and the dialogue is fresh and punchy. But Connelly is at his best when he’s crafting characters, especially Haller. The world-weary lawyer with black Irish looks makes a vivid impression on the reader. He can hold his own with drug dealers, outmaneuver assistant district attorneys, and kibbitz with his sleazy friends. Under Haller’s witty facade, however, he is haunted by his insecurities. Because almost all of his clients are guilty, he worries that he’s so jaded he won’t be able to recognize one who really is innocent. And, married and divorced twice, he agonizes over his parenting skills. Haller admits that the reason he doesn’t spend a lot of time with his 8-year-old daughter is “because I felt unworthy of her. Her mother [a prosecutor] was a hero. She put bad people in jail. What could I tell her was good and holy about what I did when I had long ago lost the thread of it myself?” Haller has the same endearing charm as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Like Marlowe, Haller lives in L.A., has a cocky wit, and doesn’t get along with the police. In a brief exchange Haller asks a homicide detective, “You ever put your head on the pillow and wonder whether you’ve put innocent people away?” The detective answers, “Nope. Never happened, never will. . . . I add to the woodpile, Haller. I sleep good at night. But I wonder about you and your kind. You lawyers are all takers from the woodpile.” This gibe gnaws at Haller, but he quips: “Thanks for the sermon. I’ll keep it in mind the next time I’m chopping wood.” Connelly’s minor characters are just as colorful. Haller’s driver, reformed drug dealer Earl Briggs, is working off the fee he owes the lawyer for keeping him out of jail; when Haller needs to conduct a confidential business meeting in his backseat, Briggs plugs into hip-hop. Haller’s bail bondsman friend, Fernando Valenzuela, who has an office next to two courthouses and the Van Nuys jail, scouts out clients. Connelly holds the reader’s attention until the very last word. Roulet doesn’t turn out to be the uncomplicated “franchise” (paying) client that Haller had hoped. Defending him turns into a soul-searching process that tests Haller as a lawyer and a human being. Accompanying Haller on this journey is well worth the ride. The Lincoln Lawyer By Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company; 404 pages) Patricia Paine is a copy editor at Corporate Counsel.

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