It is a measure of Michael Connelly's mastery of his art that he has been able to slip into the production of courtroom thrillers as if he we were putting on a pair of well-worn and much-loved sneakers.
The cover of The Brass Verdict comes with a warning for the king of legal fiction from Mark Billignham: "Move over John Grisham - Connelly has written the ultimate legal thriller". That is a reference to the phenomenally successul novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, in which Connelly launched new creation Mickey Haller into the literary world.
The comparison is apt. Connelly's first two courtroom dramas are slick, enthralling and handled with the same sure touch as his Harry Bosch detective series. They have the same "easy readability" as a Grisham book while maintaining complex, satisfying plots.
At the heart of The Brass Verdict is that great staple of LA-based crime novels: Hollywood and the games of power, money and sex that make it the world's favoured venue for gossip, intrigue and innuendo.
When the wife of the head of a rising star Hollywood studio is murdered alongside her lover in what looks like a crime of passion, mogul Walter Elliott quickly finds himself facing a murder trial. When Elliott's lawyer is also murdered, suddenly Mickey Haller, returning from long term sick leave (see The Lincoln Lawyer), is back in the big time after inheriting his dead friend's entire casebook.
Haller is confronted by evidence that, while largely circumstantial, he believes could be sufficient to convict his client and therefore sets out to find the "magic bullet" evidence that will enable him to win the case. At the same time, the unsolved murder of his friend Jerry Vincent, Elliott's previous lawyer, also preoccupies him as he learns that he too might now be a target. He learns this from the investigating LAPD officer, none other than Harry Bosch.
The bringing together of his various characters is something that Connelly is never scared of doing -reporter Jack McAvoy also appears in this book, as he has done with Bosch before - but I am usually not keen on it, as it often feels a litte contrived.
In this instance Connelly overcame these objections in me largely because the view of Bosch he offers from another's perspective was fascinating: silent, brooding, dark, surly and complicated.
Haller, by contrast, is light entertainment. Funny, wise-cracking and quick-witted. His more open disposition towards others gives Connelly a little more scope to puruse dialogue and the dynamics of relationship than Bosch usually does, and changes the tone and style the novel.
Separatey, by and large, Haller and Bosch bring the various cases towards conclusion with a combination of clever courtroom drama, behind the scenes cop work and a little conspiracy. It is well written, with memorable characters and a dynamic, smart narrative.
But there is just one false note that stopped the book getting the five star rating the first 400 pages deserved. The ending - after the case and the verdict has been delivered, you know the bit where the characters resolve those last few details - just felt all wrong. Ridiculous almost. And, here's the word again, utterly contrived and unnecessary. No spoliers here, but you'll know when you get there.