Michael Connelly’s books are invariably a treat, and The Fifth Witness is no exception. If you enjoy “court case” legal dramas, I bet you won’t read a better one this year (or any time soon).
Michael (Mickey) Haller, known as “the Lincoln Lawyer” and a recurring character, is struggling in recession-hit California to find the kind of clients that he, a bottom-dweller with a slight conscience, specialises in. He’s therefore changed direction somewhat, in a topical move, to join the mortgage repossession market. As is well-known, a current scandal in the USA is the bundling and reselling of mortgage loans by the original lender to third parties, often in a less-than-legal manner, causing grief to the home-owners, many of whom should never have received the loan in the first place under their circumstances, and even more of whom are finding themselves jobless or otherwise unable to pay back the shark-like creditors. Cue lawyers like Mickey, who take on these people as clients, charging less than the repayments in order to pick holes in the contract-transfer documents and delay the inevitable for as long as possible.
This is the background of The Fifth Witness, in which one of Mickey’s defaulting clients, Lisa Trammel, is accused of murdering a banker at the firm that is enforcing her mortgage foreclosure. Lisa is an unlikeable woman: her husband has left her, she has a young son, and has recently lost her job as a schoolteacher. She spends her time loudly protesting her situation, setting up online and real-world protest groups, eventually causing the bank to take out an injunction to prevent her entering its premises. When one of the senior partners is found murdered in the parking garage, Lisa is an obvious suspect, not least as a witness puts her in the area at the time of the death.
The main part of the novel describes Lisa’s trial, Mickey’s defence strategy, and his gradual uncovering of what really happened on the morning in question. Hollywood low-life, mobsters and biker gangs all feature as part of a tightly convoluted plot in which revelations occur as the trial progresses and the tension builds up. On the personal side, Mickey is as usual torn between his need to earn a living and his love for his ex-wife, prosecutor Maggie “McFierce”, and their teenage daughter. His small set of associates are also to the fore, all contributing their unique talents to what seems at first to be a hopeless case for the defence.
The Fifth Witness is, simply, a solid, exciting story which delivers – a traditional tale with plenty of modern twists. As noted at the start of this review, Michael Connelly is an author of predictably high-quality novels, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. His Mickey Haller novels are told in the first person, so the reader is more privy to his internal doubts and insecurities than in the (longer-standing) Harry Bosch series, which is told in the third person. Neither character is very likeable, though both are presented with sympathy. I’m glad to see from the end of The Fifth Witness that Bosch will be returning in a new novel, The Drop, in October.
I purchased my hardback copy of this novel. Read more about it at the author’s website – including an iPhone app, a Q/A with the author, a sample chapter, and more.
Excerpts from many positive reviews of the novel. Read other reviews of The Fifth Witness at: WSJ.com, the Express, and Reviewing the Evidence. (I have not linked to some newspaper reviews because of their shocking web displays, which intersperse the review with multiple page-breaks and advertisements.)