The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

The Gods of GuiltThe Gods of Guilt

by Michael Connelly
Series: Mickey Haller, #5

Mass Market Paperback, 464 pg.
Vision, 2014
Read: January 1 – 6, 2015

Getting a not-guilty verdict was a long shot. Even when you knew in your gut that you were sitting next to an innocent man at the defense table, you also knew that the NGs came grudgingly from a system designed only to deal with the guilty.

Which is why most novels about lawyers are about defense lawyers — there’s more drama when they win (Mickey’s cynicism/realism also says something about our judicial system — but that’s a matter for another kind of blog). Note how little time Rachel Knight, the prosecutor, spends in court in her novels.

But from Perry Mason to Ben Matlock to Andy Carpenter to the real life attorneys, we want to read about and watch defense attorneys. We want to see them work within (and outside) the system, up to the point where the jury, the “Gods of Guilt” decide the fate of the defendant. Sometimes these “Gods” choose correctly, sometimes not. We rarely think of the consequences of these verdicts — in fiction, we almost never see them.

This novel is practically all about those consequences — and the events spiraling out of them. Almost a decade ago, Mickey Haller used some information one of his client’s possessed to get her a good deal. Which worked out nicely for all concerned (except the guy she had the information about), until she winds up dead — after telling her accused killer that if he’s in legal trouble, Mickey Haller is the only name to call.

Mickey’s dealing with some more immediate consequences — a man he successfully defended went on to get drunk and run down an innocent mother and child. Mickey’s blamed for this — which derails his D.A. campaign and derails his relationship with his daughter (who knew one of the victims).

So, when Mickey is presented with a prospective client he believes is innocent, he grabs at the chance for a little public and familial redemption. But before these “Gods” can weigh in, there’s a long road to be walked, prices to pay, deals to be made, and secrets to uncover.

I’d forgotten how slow these books start — Connelly’s masterful and putting the pieces together in a way that makes the ending seem inevitable — once you get there. But man, at times the build up can bog you down. Sure, there were other things going on — but it took me 3 days to get through the first 200-250 pages, and then 1 day for the next 150-200, because as slow as things start — when it all starts to come together, it’s a smooth and fast ride.

Aside from the twisty and tricky plot, is, of course, character — which is really what brings readers back to this kind of series. And there’s a lot to think about in this one.

For one, there’s the new character, David “Legal” Siegel, Mickey’s father’s law partner. He’s living in a fairly totalitarian retirement home (probably for good reason, not that Legal or Mickey seem to care), but still has fantastic defense instincts and helps Mickey and his associate, Jennifer Aronson, with some of their more clever strategies. He’s a fun addition to the cast, and I hope to see more of him.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with Jennifer Aronson’s characterization. I don’t care how new she is to the whole criminal defense thing, there’s no way that someone with any kind of experience — or a TV — needs to have the concept of “burner phone” explained. I get that Jennifer Aronson needs to have some things explained to her — and the reader via Aronson — but c’mon, really? Still, it’s good to see Mickey mentoring someone, and having someone else in the firm to do some legwork does open up narrative possibilities for future novels. Although, Mickey keeps talking about Aronson leaving him and being more successful than him — is this Connelly setting up a spin-off series?

Cisco, Earl, Lorna 2 and Maggie were along as well — nothing both notable and not-spoilery to say about them. They played their narrative roles well, and as they should. There’s a notable exception to this, but can’t talk about it now.

Naturally, the focus is on Micky Haller, in the courtroom (and associated areas), he’s a shark. He’s a pro. He’s a wiz. And he knows it — which sometimes makes you groan, other times you relish it. Connelly’s honest enough to make Mickey’s confidence come back to bite him — it happened once during this trial, and even though I pretty much saw it coming, I still gave him a sympathetic wince. There was another point where I was actually talking back to the book, begging Mickey not to be so cocky. Fairly sure that things were going so well for him that he would screw things up with a witness/suspect.

As (almost) always, his personal life is in shambles. Mickey’s relationship with his daughter, Hayley, is always one of the more endearing aspects of this series, and to see the estrangement between them is rough. Connelly isn’t a guy that typically gets emotional reactions (other than suspense, and satisfaction from victory) from a reader — but Mickey having to covertly watch his daughter’s soccer practice through binoculars? No way that doesn’t tug on a heart string (while you hope no one catches him in the act and thinks he’s some sort of predator).

Throughout The Gods of Guilt there’s a Palpable sense of loneliness to Mickey, he’s always looking for people to be watching him in court. Thanks to the election loss, the DUI, etc. people’s perceptions of him are really damaged, really negative. All Mickey wants is someone, anyone really, to see him doing well, to see him doing something good. Sure, it’s better if it’s someone he cares about seeing him do that, however, and he’s always looking for it.

Naturally, things wrap up in a satisfying manner, and then we’re treated to one of the best closing paragraphs that Connelly’s written (if not the best, and he’s written too many of them for this lazy blogger to verify). The last four paragraphs cement in the reader’s mind just what kind of person the Lincoln Lawyer really is beneath the headlines, the courtroom antics, and the car.

A slow-burn of a read, like I said, but once you reach the tipping point, the reader is hanging on every word — just like the jury, Mickey’s Gods of Guilt are to the drama unfolding before them.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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