Answer: a snazzy silk suit. Question: What does a shrewd defendant wear to court?
Aside from a cheesy clip-on tie, Mickey Haller chooses the right wardrobe when he goes up on a bogus murder charge in Michael Connelly’s new legal mystery, THE LAW OF INNOCENCE (Little, Brown, 423 pp., $29). Buoyed by the slick duds and his brainy patter, the so-called Lincoln Lawyer (who indeed does most of his work and lives much of his life in the back seat of his Town Car) turns in another dazzling courtroom performance. The twist is that Haller is defending himself against the allegation that he murdered a small-time crook and stuffed the corpse into the trunk of his car.
As if Haller would defile the pristine interior of his ride to conceal the fluid-dripping carcass of an ex-client who once stiffed him on a legal fee! But because of the exorbitant $5 million bail that’s been set by a vindictive judge, Haller must solve the case from the inside of his cell at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles.
Let’s pause here to credit the author for answering a few questions about posting a bail bond. Where does the money come from? Who gets it? What’s it used for? What if you can’t raise it? Does anyone return it? And what does money have to do with guilt or innocence in the first place?
On that subject, Connelly has some eloquent things to say. “The law of innocence is unwritten,” he says: It’s not a true legal term, can’t be argued in a court of law and doesn’t exist on the books. “In the law of innocence, for every man not guilty of a crime, there is a man out there who is. And to prove true innocence, the guilty man must be found and exposed to the world.” As Haller sees it, his only choice is to assemble a support staff of familiars, including his half brother, Harry Bosch, a retired cop who usually keeps to himself in a darker, tougher series. Bringing in Bosch feels a little like showing off, and his brooding presence can’t help changing the tone of the book.
It’s the language, stupid. That’s what I keep reminding myself whenever I try to follow the hectic narrative of Ken Bruen’s latest Jack Taylor private-eye mystery, A GALWAY EPIPHANY (Mysterious Press, 256 pp., $26). It’s not the plot, stupid, although the story is certainly eccentric, featuring as it does two children, a teenage boy and a girl of 9, who innocently pull off a trick the locals declare a miracle. They might be saints, or possibly fiends, or maybe just naughty kids, but the havoc they cause is real.
There’s something endearing about this profoundly cynical series, with its idiosyncratic style (quirky quotes, soaring poetry, odd ramblings) and blistering assaults on two great Irish traditions: Catholicism and local politics. Jack Taylor, the self-destructive protagonist, is Irish with a suicidal vengeance. He does drugs and keeps his brain pickled in alcohol, all while remaining aggressively sentimental. Like his antihero, Bruen loves words, even other people’s words, and introduces his chapters with epigraphs from odd sources. One gem, from the comedian Brynn Harris, goes: “When I was a little girl / I used to dress my Barbie in a nun’s habit / So she could beat the hell out of Skipper / And not get in trouble.”
Cold state, warm heart. Joe Gunther, the square-jawed squad leader of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, is still the soul of Archer Mayor’s durable series, but much of the sleuthing in the latest volume, THE ORPHAN’S GUILT (Minotaur, 288 pp., $27.99), falls to Rachel Reiling, a reporter at the local Brattleboro newspaper, and Sally Kravitz, a private detective.
The story begins when a sad drunk is stopped on a D.U.I., and from there, it shoots straight for the heartstrings. John Rust was smashed, all right; but the poor guy was reeling from the death of his brother that very day. Not only that, the brother had been mentally impaired since birth, and John had dedicated his entire life to caring for him. Crying yet? Well, get over it. The brain damage was no birth defect, but had been inflicted by someone’s brutal hand, turning this family tragedy into a homicide that demands retribution — along with the touch of compassion that comes with the territory in this civilized series.
Jessica Thornton just can’t seem to catch a break. As recounted with relish by S. A. Prentiss in YOU WILL NEVER KNOW (Scarlet, 278 pp., $25.95), Jessica’s troubles began when her first husband died, leaving her and their child penniless. Flash forward and things seem to be picking up for Jessica, now married to a steadier guy, a realtor named Ted, and living with their blended family (her daughter, his son, both brats) in Massachusetts. But the murder of a student at the children’s high school brings the police directly to their doorstep, as if they know something she doesn’t.
Suburban suspense stories, by definition, are built on lies, lies, lies. Prentiss delivers some excellent whoppers here — almost too good, because with all these lying liars lying their heads off, there’s hardly anyone to like.