Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Club: "The Lincoln Lawyer"

We had a full turnout for our monthly book club meeting last week, but once again only two of us had completed the novel. Although one member had just seen the movie and the others were mid-book. Since two of our members had just returned from once-in-lifetime trips (Israel, Italy) and another was experiencing house-selling woes, it was no wonder the book took a back seat this month.

This is the first in Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller series about a defense attorney who represents less than admirable citizens. Located in Los Angeles, Haller uses a Lincoln Town Car driven by a prior client as his office. He conducts much of his paperwork in the car while traveling the California freeways from one court venue to the next. Haller has two ex-wives and a daughter from his first marriage, plus a list of clients that make one's skin crawl.

Haller never asks his clients if they are innocent -- it's not relevant to him. The law, according to Haller, isn't about the truth. It isn't always fair. But it does require a defense for everyone who arrives in court. Thus, he does what he can to work within the gray area of the law to the advantage of his clients. His first wife is a prosecutor and ultimately can't comprehend his defense of drug dealers and gang members. The police have no use for Haller, who they see as undermining their hard work to bring in the bad guys.

Haller is eking out a living -- and then comes the money-maker case. The son of an influential and rich family hires Haller to defend him in a murder case. But the dollar signs lose their glitter as Haller and his associates dig into the case. Soon they are revisiting an old case that ended with Haller's client in jail. When they get too close to the truth of the current situation their own lives are in danger.

We primarily approached the book as an engaging mystery with a flawed yet approachable protagonist and chilling twist to the story. But I was also intrigued by Haller's belief that the law isn't about the truth.

Any more, it seems court cases are a judgement of police procedures, not the innocence or guilt of the person charged with the crime. Having worked with statues and rules in my previous life, I know that laws can be so generic that they don't address real life situations. And even the best of intentions can result in a badly written law that has unexpected results. These are the gray areas where Connelly's character works.

Haller feared that, after so many years of defending criminals, he would not recognize a truly innocent person. Did he allow the courts to sentence an innocent man to jail? If so, how can he ever make up for it? His attempt to verify the truth and rectify the error provide the secondary story to the primary mystery.

We also got a chuckle when considering perspective. Haller is held in low esteem by prosecuting attorneys, judges, the police, and even his first wife for his defense of criminal elements. Yet Perry Mason and Ben Matlock, heroic literary and television figures, were also defense attorneys. Of course, Mason and Matlock managed to take on innocent clients only. ;-)

Is our court system about justice? Or manipulating the gray areas in plea agreements? Is The Lincoln Lawyer more than a thrilling mystery?

Our next club selection is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I'm halfway through Connie Willis' Blackout, but one of our members has started it and says we're in for a good one.

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