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Review: ‘The Fifth Witness’ by Michael Connelly


By Michael Connelly

Little, Brown, 448 pages, $27.99

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The nation’s economic woes have hit the mystery genre. The criminals are still committing crimes. But these days they can no longer afford to hire “the Lincoln lawyer” to defend them.

So Mickey Haller — Michael Connelly’s trusty No. 2 leading man — does the “unthinkable” in Connelly’s latest, The Fifth Witness . He strays from the criminal-defense work that’s fueled three previous Connelly best-sellers, including the made-for-Hollywood The Lincoln Lawyer, to the not-so-civil side of the courthouse, defending people facing foreclosure of their homes.

Reporter-turned-crime-novelist Connelly has tapped the headlines before for his novels, with mixed results.

This time, he uses Haller, the half-brother of his No. 1 leading man, L.A. police detective Harry Bosch, to paint the nation’s foreclosure crisis as largely the result of greedy, at times criminal, lenders. That’s an easy enough case to make, with all the revelations that have come out about subprime loans and mortgage fraud.

But the nuances of civil litigation would make for a slower-paced narrative than suits Connelly’s style. So he quickly gives Haller a reason to get back to familiar territory: a murder case, defending an unemployed single mother who’s lost her teaching job and is facing the prospect of losing her home when she’s charged with killing the man who was leading the effort to foreclose on her.

It’s not a bad premise. It’s also not one of Connelly’s better books.

You keep reading, though, because Connelly has produced so much of the best in crime fiction for close to 20 years now. For that, you stick with him even through the muddling middle of this 400-plus-page book. You keep reading even though, as he pieces together an effective courtroom procedural, he uncharacteristically doesn’t give you much reason to care about any of the people he’s writing about.

Mickey Haller (played by Matthew McConaughey in the current big-screen hit “The Lincoln Lawyer”) made it to the movies before Harry Bosch. But Haller’s no Bosch.

If not for the glimpses we get of Haller in The Fifth Witness with his daughter and the ex-wife he’s still in love with, there would be little here to like about him. Even his newly hired young associate questions his humanity.

The woman accused of murdering the man who would take her home away from her, Lisa Trammel, is even less sympathetic. She annoys Haller, doesn’t heed his advice and falls in with a sleazy movie producer.

But then, out of nowhere, Connelly comes through. He rewards readers’ patience with an ending that he had foreshadowed all along but that still comes across as surprising and satisfying.

It redeems Haller — and the book. And don’t be surprised if it leaves you wondering, again: How long will it be till Connelly’s next book comes out?

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