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Onyx reviews: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

A man who manages websites for escorts—essentially an online pimp—hires Mickey Haller to defend him against charges that he murdered one of his clients after she refused to pay him his cut for one of her assignations. The pimp, Andre La Cosse, was referred to Mickey by someone from his past, a prostitute with many aliases who he knew as Gloria Dayton. As it turns out, she's the victim, but she had told La Cosse that if he was ever in serious trouble he should track Mickey down.

Mickey is the Lincoln Lawyer from the novel of the same name, last seen in The Fifth Witness. He doesn't have an office but instead works out of the back of his town car and poaches WiFi from Starbucks stores. A movie was made about him, starring Matthew McConaughey, both in real life and in Mickey's reality, giving rise to so many copycats that Mickey sometimes finds himself getting into the wrong car.

He has two ex-wives (one of whom works with him) and a teenage daughter who refuses to speak to him because he successfully defended a drunk driver who subsequently killed one of her classmates in a DUI accident, an incident which also scuttled his campaign to become District Attorney. His law practice is usually teetering on the edge of financial insolvency, he advertises on bus stops and park benches, and isn't averse to resorting to the kinds of tactics that Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad would be comfortable using. With the economy recovering, his once-booming sideline of handling foreclosures is in decline. A murder case involving a client who has a stockpile of gold bullion is just what he needs.

While preparing an alternate theory to present to the jury—a "straw man" defense meant to create reasonable doubt—Mickey comes to believe his client is innocent, a rare situation in his experience, and his alternate theory may, in fact, be the truth. The "Pretty Woman" hotel call-out to which the dead prostitute responded looks like a set-up, and she was followed after her date failed to show up. Other details of the murder reinforce La Cosse's story, but his client admitted to police that he had a physical altercation with the deceased the evening of her murder, so Mickey has a tough case on his hands.

Things get especially complicated when the murder appears connected with Mickey's last involvement with Dayton. He arranged a plea deal for her previous arrest in which she agreed to testify against a drug dealer. Her testimony sent the man to prison for life, so it's possible he was seeking revenge, even though it seems unlikely that he'd wait so many years. Authorities keep warning Mickey away from certain lines of investigation, which makes him only more determined to see where they lead. Along the way he finds himself tangled up with a shady DEA agent, a prosecutor's investigator, a cartel hit man and a corrupt, disbarred lawyer serving time in prison.

Long-time readers of Connelly's novels will know that Mickey Haller is Harry Bosch's half-brother. Bosch makes an obligatory but brief cameo in the novel (a scene that will be expanded upon in a forthcoming short story). Bosch is dark and brooding, whereas Haller is just brooding. He thought he had done well by Dayton in the past, that he'd helped set her on a new course, but it turns out that his assistance had done little for her. He's also distraught by the breakdown in his relationship with his daughter. He spends far too much time alone in bars, so it's good to see him establishing a new relationship in this book, even if his lover is sketchily drawn. Readers, too, get little sense of who his client is, because the case has little to do with La Cosse.

Though Connelly is best known for his police novels, he gives John Grisham a run for his money in The Gods of Guilt, which is by far the best of the Haller books to date. The title refers to Haller's father's name for juries, who daily evaluate the guilt or innocence of the people before them. There is a lot of legal wrangling in this book as Haller and his team file motions and build their case. One of the problems with a Perry Mason style trial, though, is that once readers understand that the defense lawyer has the perfect strategy to get his client off, some of the suspense dissipates. Haller does have setbacks, both in the courtroom and outside of it—one is particularly devastating—but he has all the tools he needs to demolish the prosecution. It's mostly a matter of choosing the right time to set off the little and big explosions for maximum effect. 

The big question, though, is whether Haller can overcome his own guilt, for he sits in judgment of his past and the repercussions of his actions on those near and dear to him.

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