People love to hate defense attorneys, and Mickey Haller's certainly proof of that. The smart and unconventional lawyer who runs his Los Angeles practice from the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car takes on a vulnerable client accused of murdering a prostitute in "The Gods of Guilt," a new and enjoyable "Lincoln Lawyer" legal thriller by the great Michael Connelly.

"The Gods of Guilt," by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown and Co., New York. 400 pages. $28.

People love to hate defense attorneys, and Mickey Haller's certainly proof of that. The smart and unconventional lawyer who runs his Los Angeles practice from the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car takes on a vulnerable client accused of murdering a prostitute in "The Gods of Guilt," a new and enjoyable "Lincoln Lawyer" legal thriller by the great Michael Connelly.

As Connelly shows in "The Gods of Guilt," the cards are stacked against the defense attorney in many ways. There's an innate assumption of guilt, for starters. Then there are the formidable and hostile foes - police, prosecutors and the aggrieved. You have to have a thick skin and a contrary nature to build a defense and stay positive. Mickey Haller and his cadre of innovative investigators are the perfect foil to a punishing criminal justice system.

The accused is Andre La Cosse, said to be a "digital pimp." He sets up prostitutes with various websites that appeal to a range of tastes in order to attract greater numbers of clients. From the prostitutes he collects a percentage of each client's fee. He's enterprising, homosexual, slight of stature and, Haller realizes almost immediately, innocent of the charge of murdering his client Gloria Dayton.

A lot of the fun in a Lincoln Lawyer novel comes from Haller's renegade tactics and defiance of the norms. To stay solvent, Haller's top associate works on a lot of mortgage default cases. One of her clients has a commercial property with large, unoccupied offices. Haller and his crew use an empty space in the mornings for meetings. They must adjourn quickly, however, before the ear-splitting rock bands start practicing. As for the Lincoln Town Car with the printer and fax machine on a shelf in the front seat, it is so renowned that a movie gets made about Haller. This real-life movie, which stars Matthew McConaughey, is referenced a few times in the book to humorous effect.

Mostly, though, "The Gods of Guilt" is a deadly serious story of investigation and courtroom cunning. The gods referenced in the title are the 12 jurors who ultimately pronounce judgment.

La Cosse, Haller's client, is a poor candidate for jail and his health declines precipitously as his incarceration and the trial proceeds. By the time the trial nears completion, he is fighting for his life. Despite his vilified profession, he's a sympathetic, caring character and we want him found innocent and quickly. The situation is dire. It becomes clear that there are people, possibly aligned with law enforcement, that have a stake in La Cosse's guilt. Witnesses are turned and Haller's own staff become targets of a deadly hunt.

Haller's tactic is to prove reasonable doubt. There are other people who might have wanted Dayton dead. She was used as an informer against a merciless drug cartel. Haller has to get the support of a powerful but incarcerated cartel leader who was framed, possibly by the same suspects who may have killed Dayton. The case is sufficiently complicated to show Haller's prowess at deduction - and Connelly's deft plotting.

Haller can be tough, but he's got a big, messy soft spot. He fights for his innocent client, forsaking sleep and even his usual nightcaps. Years earlier, he gave the murder victim, Dayton, $25,000 to start a new life in Hawaii. She may have been reaching out to him with postcards when she was murdered. And he's wracked by sadness by the estrangement of his teenaged daughter. She is disgusted by the way he used technicalities to free a client who then caused the death of a friend of hers. This incident caused her much personal grief as well as humiliation at school.

Michael Connelly is also author of the Harry Bosch detective series, also set in Los Angeles. This is Connelly's 26th book and, to the credit of this hard-working and talented author, it holds up with the best of them.

Rae Padilla Francoeur's memoir, "Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair," is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.