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by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, April 2011
448 pages
ISBN: 0316069353

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Michael Connelly has done it again. In THE FIFTH WITNESS, he has written a courtroom thriller that keeps you guessing until the last minute, and has you realizing the truth at the very same moment as the protagonist. As the reader sees what is happening, bits and pieces of dropped hints and clues come together in one sudden and terrifying moment of realization.

Mickey Haller, the defense attorney introduced to us in THE LINCOLN LAWYER - now played by Matthew McConaughey in the film of this title - is back in a riveting drama. At the start, Haller is involved with the timely but unglamorous work of defending folks against illegal foreclosure. He has left criminal law for civil law, the only place he can earn a living in the current economy. He is making some money, if not garnering prestige. However, that all changes very rapidly. One of his clients, Lisa Trammel, is accused of killing a bank mortgage officer. Lisa had been a difficult client because she demanded Haller's constant attention and then became a high-profile pest, organizing demonstrations and becoming the public face of the foreclosure crisis. When she is accused of premeditated murder, she wants Haller to defend her and proclaims her innocence loudly and persistently. And it does appear that she has been both railroaded by the police and set up as a scapegoat by unknown parties. Something scary that happens to Haller also points to the existence of some other person or persons who do not want the truth to be exposed. Yet even with all of this pointing to his client's innocence, Haller has his work cut out for him. He faces a prosecutor, Andrea Freeman, who not only is one of the best but who also has a personal grudge against him.

We get an education in criminal justice as we read this book. One of Mickey Haller's rules as a defense attorney is to never pay attention to the guilt or innocence of his clients. He believes that his job is to give each of them the best defense he can, and so he has no interest in whether or not they have committed the crime with which they are charged. He is somewhat thwarted in this stance by a first year lawyer whom he has hired straight out of law school. She is idealistic in a way that Mickey feels is not in touch with the reality of criminal law. Yet both she and Lisa continually challenge his convictions about neutrality. Connelly peppers his narrative with insights and details about the system and how the odds are stacked in the favor of the state. He also takes us behind the scenes, as we see the workings of the sidebars and the discussions in chamber with the judge.

There is much more to be discovered. A theme running through this book is Haller's personal life. He wants very much to get back together with his ex-wife Maggie and be a real parent to his daughter Hayley. Everything he does, including his continued efforts to remain sober, reflects this desire. We are privy to his struggles, both professionally and personally, and we care about what happens to him. The title, as with other Connelly works, has more than one meaning. But really, this novel only needs a review of five words: It is wonderful. Read it!

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, March 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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