The Brass Verdict

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

A distinguishing trait of Michael Connelly’s novelsstarting with The Black Echo (1992) and continuing to The Overlook (2007)is the deliberate manner with which he incrementally develops the character of his primary detective, so that Hieronymous Bosch is by the thirteenth book a more fully realized persona than is the norm for the mystery genre. Details of his checkered career with the Los Angeles Police Department, of his failed marriages and subsequent liaisons, of his difficult relationship with his daughter, of his efforts to resolve questions about his past, and of his passion for jazz loom large, albeit tangentially related to plot. In The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), Connelly introduced a new sleuth, defense attorney Michael Haller, who uses a Lincoln Town Car as his office and shares with Bosch an uneven career path, rocky relationships with women, and troubled parenting. Readers presumably will learn more about him in subsequent books. In The Brass Verdict, Haller’s second appearance, Connelly pits Bosch against Haller, a detective supporting the prosecution versus an attorney for the defense. Presenting them as adversaries adds texture to the narrative and makes ironic the eventual revelation that they are half-brothers, sons of the late J. Michael Haller, a famous criminal defense lawyer.

Whereas the Bosch novels are police procedurals, the Haller books are primarily legal thrillers or procedurals, though written in the same gritty, realistic style. Almost a third of The Brass Verdict takes place in court, and the novel recalls Erle Stanley Gardner’s formulaic Perry Mason books, which also portray a defense attorney in battles of wit and will who occasionally twists the law in behalf of clients. Haller, who has been disciplined by the bar for questionable behavior, believes “a trial is a contest of lies” and offers this mantra at the beginning of the novel: “Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.” Later he adds: “Clients lie. Even jurors lie.” In sum, a courtroom lawyer cannot be concerned only with innocence, guilt, or justice but often must resort to connivance and manipulation, which reinforces Haller’s cynical belief that he lives in a corrupt milieu. In the Bosch novels, wayward cops and other rogue law enforcers are exposed; in The Brass Verdict, corruption in a court system is Connelly’s focus, and he follows his standard narrative pattern of an apparently simple case unfolding into complexity as Haller pursues new leads. A present crime has its origin in an earlier one, past events provide clues to present motives and events, and exposure and unraveling threaten reputations, positions, and lives.

The Brass Verdict (the title refers to a killing that comes down to simple street justice) starts with a reflective prologue about Haller as public defender beating attorney Jerry Vincent in a trial that ends the latter’s prosecutorial career. Fifteen years later, Vincent is a successful defense attorney whose current clients include Hollywood film producer Walter Elliot, who is charged with murdering his wife and her lover. While preparing his case, Vincent is killed, and Haller inherits his former rival’s practice, a timely windfall because Haller had not worked for two years while recovering from a gunshot wound (suffered at the end of The Lincoln Lawyer) and addiction to painkillers that required rehabilitation.

While familiarizing himself with the complexities of the high-profile and lucrative Elliot case and dealing with other Vincent clients, Haller is distracted by death threats that murder-homicide detective Bosch investigates. The Elliot case is Connelly’s main plot, and though Vincent’s murder at first seems unrelated, its connection is apparent when the Federal Bureau of Investigation becomes involved. Beyond these plots is one involving another former Vincent client, Eli Wyms, a man who is apprehended during a shooting spree. A recurring Connelly device is to enrich his novels with seemingly irrelevant characters and incidents whose significance slowly emerges. The Wyms case is an example. Wondering why Vincent would take it pro bono and expend so much effort on it, Haller realizes that hapless Wyms’s troubles somehow may provide the “magic bullet,” key evidence Haller will spring upon the court at a crucial moment to clinch his victory.

Elliot, who twelve years earlier had “traded in his wife for a newer model,” suspected she was having an affair with their German interior decorator and was concerned about her threat to divorce him. He says he discovered the pair’s bodies in his home and called 911, but because gunshot residue is on his hands and clothes, and he had motive and opportunity, the police arrest him. His position is tenuous (though no weapon has been found), but he is unconcerned about the possibility of a conviction and dismissive of Haller’s requests for cooperation....

(The entire section is 2036 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

Booklist 104, no. 22 (August 1, 2008): 5.

Entertainment Weekly, October 17, 2008, p. 18.

Library Journal 133, no. 14 (September 1, 2008): 114.

The New York Times, October 13, 2008, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review, October 19, 2008, p. 30.

Publishers Weekly 255, no. 33 (August 18, 2008): 38.

The Wall Street Journal 252, no. 98 (October 24, 2008): A17.