Connelly legal thriller confounds cliches

Crime Fiction

October 30, 2005|By SARAH WEINMAN | SARAH WEINMAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Lincoln lawyer

Michael Connelly

Little, Brown & Co. / 400 pages

One of the problems with reviewing the latest work by a much-loved, best-selling writer is that it becomes increasingly difficult to find something fresh to say. But because Connelly (best known for his Harry Bosch detective novels) has elected to try something different, one is presented with the opportunity to nitpick - only to conclude that he's bested the legal thriller format on his first try.

Meet Mickey Haller, a criminal defense lawyer who conducts business out of his Lincoln Town Car so that he can cover the widest radius possible within Los Angeles. When a wealthy real estate magnate hires Haller to defend against an accusation of assaulting a comely young woman in a bar, the lawyer smells a long trial and big money - the long-hoped-for "franchise case."

The surprise is not that Haller's good fortune quickly goes to hell but in how the attorney-client relationship can be manipulated to its most sadistic permutation - and how a charming rationalizer learns to appreciate those who love him best when he needs them most. By changing up the usual hoary legal thriller tropes and relying on his natural strengths - characterization and pace - Connelly has crafted yet another standout effort.

The Typhoon Lover

Sujata Massey

HarperCollins / 306 pages

Just the thought of turning 30 can throw an otherwise unruffled person into a major crisis. And for Japanese-American antiques dealer Rei Shimura, the star of this most enjoyable mystery series, it's no different - the first 29 years were packed with plenty of adventure, and she has happily settled into life in Washington, D.C., with her longtime boyfriend, Hugh, and her freelance business.

But fate has a strange sense of humor, offering Rei an opportunity she cannot turn down: returning to her beloved Tokyo to search for a missing antique that the U.S. government desperately wants found, and which may or may not be in the hands of her former lover. Of course, that's when things really get complicated, as old wounds, family ties and dormant mysteries coalesce in a cesspool of murder and intrigue.

As in earlier series installments, Baltimore's Massey gives equal time in The Typhoon Lover to the plot and to Rei's development without sacrificing either element. Rei makes some seriously risky judgment calls and mistakes leading to emotional betrayals, but they ring true because of their roots in her continued navigation of separate cultures.

The Stranger House

Reginald Hill

HarperCollins / 470 pages

Hill's first stand-alone in many years (after a string of progressively excellent Dalziel and Pascoe police procedurals) probes a series of fundamental questions: Who are we, and how is our identity shaped by the past? The answers come in the guise of Samantha Flood and Miguel Madero, young truth-seekers who land in Illthwaite to explore their mysterious ties to the sleepy English hamlet.

Flood's connections are especially murky as she tries to piece together whether her paternal grandmother - and namesake - lived in Illthwaite in the early 1960s. The records say yes, but the townsfolk throw up a shroud of denial that quickly spirals into near-accidents, tragic events and murder.

The Stranger House is a textbook example of a character-driven novel as Hill gives equal time to spinning out various mysteries and to painting meticulous portraits of main and supporting players alike. Samantha's burning zeal, Miguel's conflicting feelings about both his ancestry and his current straits, and the deeply suppressed longings and secrets of Illthwaite's denizens add layers of depth most welcome in this finely told story. Patience is required, but the end result pays off with surprising resonance.

Jar City

Arnaldur Indridason

Thomas Dunne Books / 272 pages

A good crime novel engages the reader with traditional elements of plot, character and pace; a great crime novel goes further, where the sense of place is so pronounced that one can smell the air and feel the creeping chill. And the cold - weather and human emotion - is everywhere in Indridason's excellent debut translated crime novel, which introduces Iceland's most popular fictional detective, Erlendur, to American soil. He's summoned to a shabby apartment in Reykjavik where an elderly man has been found brutally murdered. The clues are scarce at first - a picture of a young girl's grave and a note left at the scene, but they soon lead Erlendur and his team through a maze stretching back several decades to murder, madness and a horrible secret that continues to shatter lives, producing one of the saddest endings ever in a crime novel.

Indridason amply shows why his work has racked up numerous awards abroad (including a CWA Gold Dagger nomination), because Jar City stresses both the otherworldliness of this faraway country and how similar its denizens are to the rest of us.

And Only to Deceive

Tasha Alexander

William Morrow / 300 pages

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