THE FIFTH WITNESS: MICHAEL CONNELLY

Posted: April 22, 2013 in Book Awards, USA

51UBZ-3nJ+L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_My reading in April so far has been a bit restricted as some of  life’s little pleasures intervened; arranging a relocation for a relative, VAT returns, hlphaving  windows replaced, and clocking up yet another birthday. Those birthdays do seem to come round rather quickly now. 

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly was disappointing, and I can understand why readers of the ABA Journal favoured Robert Dugoni’s Murder One as their choice for the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. 

Over 500 pages of first person Mickey Haller was a bit difficult to digest, turgid and in places frankly boring, perhaps you had to be a lawyer to fully appreciate it. At times it did read more like a textbook for aspiring defence lawyers than a novel, and I was not entranced because I thought  the “brilliant double twist” [Evening Standard] was telegraphed for all to see.

Some passages did interest me though, Haller enjoys himself at the expense of his junior associate Jennifer by constantly calling her ‘Bullocks’ after the art deco department store in LA that was purchased by the Southwestern Law School to be part of the campus. This reminded me of the reverse situation when the Royal Dental Hospital in Leicester Square, London was bizarrely situated over a Tennessee Pancake House. The property was worth a fortune, and although dentists from all over London referred patients there, it was sold off in 1987, and reincarnated as a five star hotel.  A similar fate awaited Exeter’s Eye Hospital a few years later, as the sight of a Victorian/Edwardian hospital building produces £ signs to in the heads of NHS administrators.

I think I might have enjoyed The Fifth Witness more if Haller had been defending a more pleasant and deserving character than Lisa Trammel. Lisa is one of Haller’s clients in his new business of preventing bank foreclosures in the property debacle following the banking collapse. Lisa is then charged with murdering the bank’s CEO Mitchell Bondurant, when he is found with his head bashed in and a witness sees her near the scene of the crime. The reader is taken through the minutiae of the case. We learn about foreclosure mills, Hollywood deals, Haller’s relationships with his two ex-wives and teenage daughter, and all this is interesting but doesn’t make up for the fact that Mickey Haller is not Harry Bosch.

It is difficult to criticise an author whose books you have enjoyed so much in the past, but I think because of the weak plot twist and the unsympathetic characters this was not one of  Michael Connelly’s better books, even though it did win the Harper Lee. 

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Comments
  1. Norman – I know what you mean about the amount of law discussed in this one. And yes, there are nicer protagonists than Lisa Trammel. I think I forgave Connelly that though, in part because I’m a fan of his (i.e. I think Connelly at his weakest is better than a lot of people at their best) and in part because I thought the topic was really timely. But yes, there are definitely less-than gripping parts of this story. Still, I have a soft spot for it…

  2. Norman Price says:

    Margot- I agree Connelly at his weakest is better than a lot of writers. But I had just read Fred Vargas, and after The Fifth Witness moved on to read Hakan Nesser’s The Weeping Girl so he was being compared with the very best of European crime writers.

  3. Blighty says:

    Interesting review – it’s a long time since I read any Connolly, think I will give this a miss and read the Dugoni instead.

  4. col says:

    I actually enjoyed this one more than his previous few which I haven’t really liked. It used to be that every Connelly book was superb and he was on a constant upward curve, with the next one better than the last. Has he peaked? Is he getting lazy and complacent?
    Hopefully The Black Box on Mount TBR, shows me he’s still got it.

    • Norman Price says:

      Col, I did enjoy The Black Box but his Mickey Haller books never seem to be quite as good as his Harry Bosch books. Just my opinion, or maybe I just have different standards for cop books than I do for lawyer books.

  5. Bill Selnes says:

    Norman: Possibly because I am a lawyer I liked the book better than yourself. I rarely tire of the actions and decisions of lawyers in trials. What I disliked about the book was the ending. I thought Connelly could have done much better there. I read the Dugoni book after reading your review. It appears I inspired you and in turn you inspired me to read the book.

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