Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, returns to action in The Fifth Witness, a courtroom drama. Haller is a successful defense attorney who used to make a living by working from the back sit of his car. However, things are changing fast in this unstable world of ours, and he has to change with them. In order to make ends meet, the good lawyer has turned to foreclosures, one of the most lucrative sectors of our times in the U.S. His practice is suddenly booming and, for the first time, he has to ask for help. So he hires a young woman, just out of the law school, which shows a lot of promise and rents an office.
     Haller doesn’t find foreclosures as interesting as crime defense, but he’s quite happy that business keeps pouring in. After all, saving people’s homes is not a bad thing. He misses though those rushes of adrenaline, which only crime trials can give. And what he misses is exactly what he’s going to get, as one of his customers, Lisa Trammel, is arrested for the murder of a banker.
     Trammel is a desperate woman, who’s run out of luck, when the economy collapsed. Her husband went away, leaving her behind with a kid to raise and a big mortgage to pay. As she’s about to lose her house she starts a campaign against the banks, which inevitably draws on her person a lot of publicity. Fame, nevertheless, will bring with it misfortune, since when a banker is killed she’ll be considered the prime suspect and arrested at once. All the evidence shows that she’s guilty. She used to demonstrate outside the back, she gave some people a hard time, a restraining order has been issued against her, and she was spotted by a witness very close to the scene of the crime.
     Haller, as expected, will rush to the rescue. He’ll take her case and find his way back into crime defense with a bang. He has no idea if she’s innocent or guilty, he doesn’t even want to know; all he cares about is winning the case for her. The thing is though that Trammel herself is doing everything she can to make his life difficult. Irrationality seems to be her modus operandi. She does almost everything he tells her not to and then some more, and as time goes by the less he trusts her. He hates himself for working for a customer he doesn’t like, and whom he started to despise. But that’s part of the job and he knows it.
     The Fifth Witness is not just a courtroom drama; it’s a story of ambitions as well: the ambitions of a lawyer winning a big trial; of a prosecutor who does not hesitate for a moment to play dirty in order to reach her goals; of a woman that just loves to be at the spotlight; and of a man who will stop at nothing to have things his way.
     The story moves at a great pace, the action is almost nonstop and all the twists and turns are nicely done. Most of the characters seem to be at a dead end or another. Their love connections are failing and their existential beliefs come into question. Their everyday lives are illuminated and they don’t look too good at all.
     Maybe, just maybe, this novel is the best Michael Connelly brought out since The Poet. A great read.

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