Friday, 22 July 2011


Times have been tough for crack criminal attorney Mickey Haller, and lately he's been mostly defending people against foreclosures, advertising (in Spanish and English) on every page of the phone book and taking every case that comes along. Then one of his clients, a woman who's led a high-profile protest against the bank trying to take her home, is charged with murdering the CEO of the bank. He's been found in the bank's parking garage with his head hammered in, and Lisa was spotted in the vicinity.

The case is almost too open and shut, the perfect platform for Mickey's criminal practice to get back into gear. Throw in a DA friendly with his ex-wife, a missing husband, and a growing link to mob activities, and it's just the sort of theatre where he loves to star. Except that nothing, of course, is quite what it seems.

It's almost criminal that Michael Connelly, undoubtedly our best writer of what you might call police procedurals, is also establishing himself as a master of courtroom drama too. It's not just the twists and turns of the evidence, where he stands out is in delineating the personal battles between attorneys, and between each of them and the judge. He uses that dynamic as a main part of the suspense, which makes the story personal. That has always been the strong point of the Harry Bosch series, the way the personal drives and reflects the story, and it's no different with Haller. Throw in the fact that his client is increasingly unreliable, and the story continues spinning with the twists never seeming artifically inserted, and that is a necessity in good story-telling. Without giving away what 'fifth witness' actually means, the parallel between what Haller does to the eponymous wit and what he does in other facets of his life is clear.

Haller is not as interesting a character as Bosch, perhaps less likeable and certainly less easy to pin down. His morality is flexible, as befits a lawyer, and he himself is actually most interesting when interacting with his ex, ADA Maggie 'McFierce', because both are driven by their profession, each with a holier-than-thou attitude to a business where holy doesn't often enter into it. The big challenge for Connelly is probably to get that next step deeper into Haller's character, which, if the forgrounding in this book is any indication, he is going to try to do.

But in the end, this is, after all, a mystery, Connelly resolves it with a twist, one which, in the old-fashioned sense, plays absolutely true with the reader: it's been out there to see, but there's no reason you (or Haller) would have, because you're just as caught up in the case as he is. It's a bravura piece of courtroom writing, one of those keep-reading-all-night until you finish it books.

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
Orion £18.99 ISBN 9781409114420

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