It’s no secret that I think Michael Connelly is a top mystery writer. I read a short interview awhile back (can’t remember when, sorry) where he stated that he mostly makes it up as he goes along. I’m sure he already has an endgame, but it sounds like he’s willing to let the characters lead him instead of the plot. Based on the number of his books I’ve read, this feels true. However, it seems like that would be harder to do with a courtroom drama.
The Gods of Guilt is another in the “Lincoln Lawyer” series. My experience with this series is, the first one was great, but the next couple followed a similar formula. The Gods of Guilt, however, felt like a fresh experience. I’m glad I went back to the series.
In the previous installment, defense attorney Michael Haller was looking to move to the other side of the courtroom aisle by running for district attorney of Los Angeles County. It’s clear at the start of The Gods of Guilt that he didn’t win. That he didn’t win isn’t important, but rather why he didn’t. It sets up his personal life going into this story, which gives the author a lot to work with from a character standpoint. I actually wish he could have gone deeper down that road, but do you want a page-turning mystery and courtroom battle, or a character study?
Here you’ll get a lot of one and just enough of the other to keep things interesting.
What I think Michael Connelly has fully developed is his ability, his instinct, to dole out just enough revelations or plot twists in each chapter to keep the reader moving into the next one. I think that can be hard to do when you are following the current formula for thrillers – in this case each chapter averages out to 9 pages each; essentially telling the story in 43 parts. 43 parts! I don’t think I could make each chapter that interesting if I was writing 43 chapters. But he does it.
The author always throws in a few plot twists along the way, but this one was more straightforward. You won’t find any trickery here, just good plotting and logic. The lines all connect, with nothing left hanging or unclear.
Let’s face it, though, when you read a courtroom thriller, you want some damn fine courtroom drama. Once again, The Gods of Guilt doesn’t disappoint. I’ve never been involved in any kind of criminal proceedings (really!), so I can only assume there is at least some truth to what happens in those places. At the very least, the author makes it exciting. The gamesmanship between the prosecution and defense is on full display. The author doesn’t give you hint of what Haller will do in court, who he’ll call to the stand or how he’ll redirect a hostile witness. He lets it all unfold live in front of you.
The central mystery is interesting, but the legal actions propel the story to a surprising conclusion. What would you do if you were cornered and guilty but with no way to fight? Most people wouldn’t go so far as what happens here, but true, unrelenting despair will drive people to madness.