::Literate Blather::
Monday, December 15, 2008
Book Review: "The Brass Verdict" Plays It Safe

Author Michael Connelly Avoids Risks, Yet "The Brass Verdict" a Satisfying Crime Novel

Michael Connelly is a safe bet. Pick up one of his crime novels and you’re going to get a tight-plotted caper with colorful characters, riveting dialog, and a satisfying conclusion.

That’s why Connelly is a blockbuster author and New York Times bestseller. He’s consistent – consistently good.

But after more than 20 novels, this consistency may be starting to become something worse: predictable. Case in point: “The Brass Verdict.”

“The Brass Verdict” is the second novel in Connelly’s new series about Mickey Haller, a defense lawyer in Los Angeles. Haller is an interesting charac
ter – a former addict to painkillers who keeps his emotions tightly contained. He’s a brutal realist, but with a soft spot for certain hard luck cases.

The character (and the series) shows a lot of promise. Connelly has a great eye for criminal case detail and understands how to create courtroom suspense. The best parts of “The Brass Verdict” are all in the courtroom.

It’s unfortunate that Connelly didn’t feel confident enough to allow Haller’s case to unfold. The story is a good one. Haller, recently out of rehab, inherits the caseload of a fellow defense attorney. One of the clients is a rich and powerful movie mogul accused of murdering his wife and her lover.

Walter Elliot is an arrogant, oily tycoon with a likability score of less than zero. But did he shoot and kill two people?

Haller isn’t interested in guilty or innocence – only in building a case that can win. This razor-thin line that Haller walks as he investigates the homicides makes for a fascinating look at his character and at how our criminal justice system works.

This is how Connelly opens the novel: “Everybody lies. Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victim lies. A trial is a contest of lies. And everyone in the courtroom know this.”

If only Connelly let Haller build his case and kept us in the courtroom as he argued and maneuvered. The novel would have been even better.

Unfortunately, “The Brass Verdict” gets the same treatment as Connelly’s first breakout bestseller “The Poet” (1996). There are more twists here than an Olympic high-platform dive – and in the end – there’s just too many to keep the story believable.

Part of the problem is the presence of L.A. Police Detective Harry Bosch. Bosch is Connelly’s primary series character (and if you haven’t read any of the books featuring Bosch – you really should).

Bosch really doesn’t have a role in “The Brass Verdict” – except as a crossover concept (and for a surprise coincidence at the end). Bosch’s investigation into Elliot’s alleged double homicide is more of distraction than an addition. It keeps us out of the courtroom – where the real action is.

But even with Connelly’s decision to use Bosch and play twister at the end – “The Brass Verdict” is better than most of the mainstream crime fiction out there. You have to hand it to Connelly – his formula for consistency keeps him selling books.

It would be nice to see him take some risks and move away from his modus operandi, but then again why mess with success?

Buy "The Brass Verdict" at Amazon.com

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