BWW Reviews: THE GODS OF GUILT Keeps the Lincoln Lawyer Series Humming Along
The Gods of Guilt is actually my introduction to Michael Connelly's tremendously popular Lincoln Lawyer series (though, like a lot of characters in this particular volume, I have seen the movie).
Whenever I have an initial encounter with a genre writer, the first thing I try to determine is whether the primary intent is to sustain or challenge existing formulas. In this case, it was pretty evident from the first few pages that Connelly was after the former and also that he was good at his job.
That out of the way, I settled down for a nice, swift read and spending a few diverting hours with Mickey Haller--the lawyer in question--certainly didn't disappoint.
Despite the occasional use of street language (which isn't actually as liberally or awkwardly deployed here as in most places these days, including real life), and a veneer of moral ambiguity, the bedrock concept is reliably old-fashioned. Haller's client is guilty of some pretty bad things but not the murder for which he's been indicted. The drug lord who might help get Haller's client off is genuinely evil but also genuinely in jail for the wrong reasons. The cops are shady. Haller himself is full of guilt over prior deeds which, among other things, have caused a rift with his teenage daughter. And he himself is not above cutting corners. Lots of them if necessary.
In the hands of the Hammett/Chandler/MacDonald school of Hard-Boiled crime, this sort of mix would all spell deep-seated cynicism with a romantic overlay of doubt and perhaps even angst. A skilled writer from the Cain/Thompson/Leonard school would leave you wanting to take a bath.
However, if The Gods of Guilt is reasonably typical of the series (as I've been told it is), then Connelly seems to be operating from a play book of similar vintage but which has always had a different aim in mind. Call it the Semi-Hard-Boiled school and thank Erle Stanley Gardner, from whom everybody who came after learned quite a lot, even if Chandler was probably the only one willing to admit it.
It's the school that puts telling a good story and keeping the pages turning above all else. On that score Connelly rates high. In The Gods of Guilt the pace moves, the pages turn and, excepting a few asides for "personal" stuff that is better left to books concerned with character studies, the story flows.
And, for me, it passed the page-count test.
I didn't have to keep calculating percentages in my head, wondering just how far I was from being through with the darn thing. That's not small praise. Never underestimate a writer who can keep you away from math problems.
The only mild disappointment was the courtroom denouement. I didn't find the dramatic final twist, which depends on one of those sudden turns on the witness stand that don't seem to quite flow organically out of what has led up to it, particularly convincing. But, for me, a book like this is more about the journey than the destination and, within its easy-breezy limits, The Gods of Guilt gets the job done with room to spare.
I got this volume for my birthday. If I get another one for Christmas, my feelings won't be hurt a bit.