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John Grisham, Michael Connelly make their cases in new novels

The covers of Connelly’s ‘The Crossing’ and Grisham’s ‘Rogue Lawyer’ respectively. — Handout via The New York TimesThe covers of Connelly’s ‘The Crossing’ and Grisham’s ‘Rogue Lawyer’ respectively. — Handout via The New York TimesNEW YORK, Oct 28 — In 2005, Michael Connelly revitalised his career by adding Mickey Haller, aka the Lincoln lawyer, to his stable of characters. Rakish, trick-loving Mickey seemed like the diametrical opposite of Connelly’s stolid, jazz-loving Hieronymus Bosch, known as Harry, the battle-weary Vietnam veteran and LAPD detective, now retired, who has trodden his way, clue by clue, through most Connelly novels.

Mickey is best known for three things: his place of business, a Lincoln Town Car; his vanity plates, which read “IWALKEM”; and his way of trawling for clients by advertising on bus benches near the courthouse. He’s also Harry’s admiring half brother and now his lawyer, too, as Harry sues the Los Angeles Police Department for forcing him into retirement.

Odd coincidences: Playing Mickey in “The Lincoln Lawyer” gave a big boost to the career of Matthew McConaughey. Who once got another huge career assist by playing the main character in “A Time to Kill,” by John Grisham. Who just wrote “Rogue Lawyer,” about a dangerously Mickey-like character on wheels of his own. Grisham’s contender in the rolling lawyer derby is Sebastian Rudd, a creative shyster who has more in common with Mickey than he ought to.

Sure, the Rudd customised van is fancier than the Haller Lincoln: Grisham’s jacket copy establishes that its furnishings include “fine leather chairs,” for one. Haller has a biker assistant named Cisco, while Rudd has a driver-fixer-companion called Partner. Rudd insists vehemently that ads on bus benches are beneath him. But the MOs of these rogue lawyers overlap.

That’s because both Grisham and Connelly are idealists and reformers, and both like to say so. Grisham is the more outspoken, to the point that the word “soapbox” actually figures in “Rogue Lawyer” when Rudd mercifully promises that he’ll try not to overuse his.

Grisham’s recent books have included long, speechy harangues about subjects like the death penalty. His skills as an entertainer can be overshadowed by his eagerness to hector. But “Rogue Lawyer” is one of his better recent books, partly because of the format: It’s broken up into short episodes that interlock only as the plot reaches its final stages.

Rudd’s first stop on the book’s meandering crime tour takes him to the trial of a client accused of killing two young girls. The setting: a small town unanimously convinced that Rudd’s client is guilty. It’s business as usual for Rudd or his client to be pelted with fruit and vegetables in situations like this, and for the lawyer to hold out little hope for the person he’s representing. But Grisham creates a way for Rudd to identify the real killer and prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Then we get what the author has been yearning to deliver: an object lesson in law enforcement’s reluctance to part with its established theory about a crime suspect even after that theory has been proved wrong. “Like so many, this trial is not about the truth; it’s about winning,” he writes of this early, exemplary case. “And to win, with no real evidence,” the prosecutor “must fabricate and lie and attack the truth as if he hates it.”

“Rogue Lawyer” ushers in Rudd as a potential series star for Grisham. The man has a son he loves but barely knows; an ex-wife who left him for another woman; a shockingly good way of assailing important targets, like badly written laws; and a few wild-guy qualities that are balanced by his love of golf. Roguewise, he’s right up there with Robin Hood.

“The Crossing,” the latest from Connelly, doesn’t offer Mickey Haller much chance to shine. That’s because Connelly has trouble letting Harry and Mickey occupy the same book at the same time. Harry dominates this story, with Mickey’s important function reflected mostly in the title: Mickey has asked Harry to help him investigate a criminal case, and this ought to be right up Harry’s alley. He’s an investigator, after all. But he’s used to working for the police, not for the defence. Crossing over to the dark side, as Harry puts it, is not going to make him popular with his former police colleagues. Hence, “The Crossing.”

Connelly shares some of Grisham’s storytelling skills. But he’s not a stylist, or at least not a subtle one. His narration tends to be blunt: “It all added up to spinning wheels, but they were wheels that needed to be spun.” And Harry’s methodical thinking never skips a step, at least not early in any of these novels. The best Connelly books take on terrific momentum in their final chapters, but “The Crossing” isn’t at that level. If Grisham has taken a step in an intriguing new direction, Connelly has satisfied his fans without luring any new ones.

The case for which Mickey enlists Harry concerns the gruesome murder (natch) of a woman attacked in her bed and the foregone conclusion that the police already have her killer. It’s a situation on which Sebastian Rudd would surely inveigh. DNA evidence is what makes the police so certain, but Harry never falls for anything that straightforward. Besides, there’s something at the crime scene that intrigues him, and he manages to follow that something throughout the course of a long international investigation. Once his mind fixes on something troubling, it doesn’t wander.

Harry’s doggedness is seen not only in his devotion to this one stray detail, but also in Connelly’s dedication to making his title work. Watch him find creative ways of inserting the word “crossing” into this book as many ways as he can. — The New York Times

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