Fifth Witness

  • Michael Connelly
  • Little, Brown
  • 432 pp.
  • April 21, 2011

Redoubtable defense lawyer Mickey Haller slides into a dangerous world of post-recession foreclosures.

Reviewed by Brad Parks

Let’s get two things out of the way.

One: As an author, I’m in awe of Michael Connelly. The man has published 22 novels, made millions of dollars and garnered such critical and popular acclaim that even if he started dogging it (like some best-selling authors we all know but won’t mention), he would still be remembered among the genre’s all-time greats. Yet each new book maintains ― even exceeds ― his relentlessly high standards.

Two: In the interest of full disclosure, the man was kind enough to blurb my last book, a real shot in the arm for a little-known shlub like me.

That said, The Fifth Witness, his 23rd novel, is an engrossing and worthwhile read. As the latest entry in the Mickey Haller series ― which began with The Lincoln Lawyer (coming soon to a theater near you) and continued with The Brass Verdict (considered by some the best crime novel of the decade) and The Reversal ― it combines all the ingredients that continue to make this author an automatic No. 1 bestseller.

The voice is vintage Connelly, strong and authoritative, with a mastery of the subject matter that speaks to his talent for research. His courtroom scenes are remarkably authentic, especially considering Connelly isn’t a lawyer by training. His prose has always been spare and efficient ―  a vestige of his days as a newspaper reporter ― but it also keeps the pages turning. His pacing and plotting are, as usual, flawless.

The action begins with Haller, the redoubtable defense attorney, having been forced out of criminal law and into the one growth area of the post-recession legal landscape: foreclosure cases. But when one of his new clients, Lisa Trammel, is accused of murdering the bank executive trying to take away her home, Haller is back in his element, summoning all his wiles and experience to mount a defense in what looks to be a high-profile case.

“In less than twenty-four hours,” Haller says at one point, “I had gone from scrounging $250-a-month foreclosure cases in South L.A. to being lead defense attorney on a case that threatened to be the signature story on the financial epoch.”

One of the new developments in the protagonist’s life ― in addition to his ongoing love affair with his prosecutor ex-wife, with all the complications that implies ― is that Mickey Haller & Associates has actually, for the first time, taken on an associate. She’s a recent law school graduate whose idealism balances Haller’s cynicism. She also gives the veteran attorney the occasional opportunity to pontificate on the nature of his work.

“You want to do criminal defense, this is what you have to understand,” he tells her at one point. “You never ask your client if he did it. Yes or no, the answer is only a distraction.” A little later, he counsels: “Don’t go growing a conscience on me. I’ve been down that road. It doesn’t lead to anything good.”

It’s quintessential Haller, contemptible and likable all at the same time. He is the embodiment of the sleazy defense attorney ― right down to his two ex-wives and ethically borderline courtroom tactics ― and yet you can’t help cheering for him, mostly because you understand him. Plus, you can see he’s really trying. And evolving. When it’s clear the murder case is going to be all consuming, Haller takes the drastic step of renting an office. Yes, the Lincoln Lawyer ― so named for doing his work in the backseat of a Lincoln ― ditches his wheels in this installment.

Connelly’s fans will hope Haller hops back into the Lincoln sometime soon, if only because that means we’ll see him again. After racing through The Fifth Witness, I count myself among the legions eager for more.

The real marvel of Connelly’s career is that, with Harry Bosch, he had already established himself as one of the best in the business at writing police procedurals. Now, with Mickey Haller, he proves he’s one of the best ever at writing legal thrillers, too.

Which, for me, is just one more reason to remain in awe.—Brad Parks is an author, most recently of Eyes of the Innocent. His debut novel, Faces of the Gone, became the first book to win both the Shamus Award and the Nero Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. See his Web site ( for information on following him on Twitter or Facebook or to read his newsletter.

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