Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Brass Verdict - by Michael Connelly

In this legal thriller, Michael Connelly brings back Mickey Haller. Since we left him, in "The Lincoln Lawyer," Mickey has struggled. Confronted with addition, he has critically damaged and jeopordized the relationships with and respect of his daughter and her mother (his ex-wife) that he so values. In this book, we find him putting his life back together.

The story begins with some background about a long-ago case where Mickey, as a young public defender, crosses paths with a rising prosecutor named Jerry Vincent. His loss to Mickey on this case forces Vincent into private practice, something Jerry thanks Haller for. Fast forward a number of years and Jerry Vincent is murdered. It turns out, however, that his contracts contain clauses naming Haller as the person with first shot to take over his cases, should he be unable to represent them himself. Suddenly, Mickey's recovery, going well and including plans to ease back into litigation, is greatly accelerated. Among his "inheritance" from Vincent is is a high profile murder case involving a prominent Hollywood producer, Walter Elliot, who is accused of killing his much younger wife and her lover. The client wants to go to trial on schedule, so Mickey must scramble to keep this case.

Harry Bosch, the lead in many of Connelly's novels, is the detective assigned to the Vincent murder. Harry, the cop, and Mickey, the defense attorney, are somewhat strange allies, but Mickey agrees to be used as bait to draw out the killer. If you are familiar with some of Connelly's other stories, you may already know that Haller and Bosch have a family link. In this novel, more information about that is revealed.

I really like Mickey Haller. He is bright, intelligent, and an excellent lawyer. On the other hand, he has his demons, weaknesses, and flaws. His relationships are somewhat non-traditional. His case manager is an ex-wife and his lead investigator is dating her. The mother of his daughter, Maggie, another ex-wife, is a prosecutor. He genuinely cares for all of them. He adores his daughter, Hayley. In this book, he tries to help out Patrick, a new client he also inherits from Jerry Vincent. He sometimes struggles with the ethics of being a defense attorney, but with good reason. He tries to do the right thing. I really enjoyed seeing this story through his eyes.

Connelly's use of twists and turns in this book, in my opinion, was near perfect. There were enough surprises to keep me engaged and interested, but they were not forced. Many of the events were unexpected, but after reading them, they made sense and fit. All in all, I thought that this was a very good read and I highly recommend it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Associate - by John Grisham

John Grisham is one of my favorite authors. As "The Associate" came out a little over a year ago (January, 2009), I'm not sure what took me so long to get around to it. If you liked Grisham's earlier legal fiction thrillers, this one is of a similar mold.

Kyle McAvoy is editor of the Yale Law Journal and has a very bright future. He is being recruited by top law firms, including Scully & Pershing of Wall Street, with whom he had a summer internship. As the well grounded son of a small town (York, Pennsylvania), main street lawyer, though, he has more idealistic goals for his prospective legal career. When ambushed with a newly surfaced video of an episode from his past, all of that quickly changes, however. Years earlier, while at Duquesne University, Kyle an his roomates wound up drunk in a room with a young girl. Two of the boys (not Kyle) had sex with the girl while she may have been passed out. At the time, allegations of rape were quietly dismissed. Now, however, the emergence of a video changes things. It threatens not only Kyle's bright future, but also places his old college roommates and friends at risk. Because of this, he is forced to succumb to blackmail.

A mysterious man with the alias, Bennie Wright, becomes his handler and forces him to work as his spy, towards the goal of obtaining highly classified information associated with a multibillion-dollar lawsuit between two defense industry giants. Kyle must, against his will, turn his life over to a New York firm and assume the highly competitive and stressful, but well-paid position of a first-year associate. Although he continually struggles to achieve an acceptable balance between keeping Bennie happy and avoiding the slippery slope of ethical and/or criminal behavior, events are quickly pushing him towards a point of no return, where he will eventually be forced to provide unauthorized and confidential client information. Constantly under surveillance, his life is no longer his own. Who is Bennie and who is he working for? Can Kyle survive this and find a way out?

In my opinion, the true strength of Grisham's novels lies in his characterization. Almost everyone in the story is interesting for one reason or another. In "The Associate," that is just as true as ever. His college buddies are Joey Bernardo, the newly responsible Pittsburgh stock-broker with a fiance and a baby on the way, and Baxter Tate, an alcholic and addict from a wealthy family who is going through a last chance detox and finds religion. Kyle himself comes from a somewhat broken but functional family. His father is a decent man who has dedicated his life to the practice of law within and on behalf of the small town community that he lives in. Although divorced from Kyle's mother, he looks after her. On her meds, she is an untalented, but contented artisan. Off of her meds, her life is much more depressing. Through Kyle's new career, we are exposed to many interesting associates and partners. His friend and love interest, Dale, for example, is a rather quiet, former math teacher turned lawyer. Above all, Mr. Grisham is a consummate storyteller and, personally, I find his characters to have depth.

I found "The Associate" fast paced and a very enjoyable read. Many may not appreciate the ending. Given my previously noted bias, you may want to take this with a slightly skeptical view, but I recommend this book. In the end, I found it an interesting story that I wanted to keep reading all the way through. Those are the kind of books I like to read.