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'Lincoln' navigates crime curves at breakneck speed

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The high-speed freeway system in and around Los Angeles intersects, crisscrosses and unexpectedly diverts onto off ramps and into detours.

The freeways are a perfect metaphor for the intricate, fast-moving plot of Michael Connelly's latest novel, The Lincoln Lawyer.

Widely praised for his best-selling series featuring on-again, off-again LAPD detective Harry Bosch, Connelly again has taken one of his occasional forays into a stand-alone novel filled with new characters and new twists but still grounded in the crime genre.

The Lincoln Lawyer is Connelly's first legal thriller and is one of the best novels he has written, if not the best. That's high praise for an author whose 15 other books -- including The Poet, Bloodwork, which was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood, The Closers and The Narrows -- are hailed as models of crime writing.

The protagonist here is L.A. defense attorney Mickey Haller, who makes the best use of his time by doing most of his work from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car, hence, the book's title.

Setting the novel in sprawling Los Angeles County, home to dozens of courthouses, provides Haller a seemingly endless number of potential clients.

His driver, Earl, is a former client who acts as chauffeur to pay off his legal fees. Even though most of Haller's clients are drug dealers and users, bikers and prostitutes, he's always on the lookout for "a franchise," someone who can pay top rates for his services.

Enter playboy Louis Roulet, who is accused of beating and threatening prostitute Regina Campo. Haller is hired to defend him. But this new source of income -- and lots of it -- is also the source of terror, murder and much philosophical rumination.

There are so many things to admire about The Lincoln Lawyer that one hopes Connelly is planting the seeds for a whole new series.

First, Connelly is able to create a rooting interest for a protagonist of questionable motivation. This sometimes amoral lawyer admits to being in the business for the money and the victories, yet he remains likable. Even his two ex-wives love him.

Then there are the details. Connelly does his homework. His Bosch novels are steeped in the workings of the LAPD and the criminal underbelly of the City of Angels. Similarly, his Haller novel is infused with court procedure, and the banter among cops, lawyers, judges and defendants rings true.

Lakeshore Entertainment (Million Dollar Baby) already has picked up the movie rights.

And next year, Bosch and Haller join forces in a sequel. Sounds like one heck of a ride.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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