New “Lincoln Lawyer” thriller surprises and satisfies

“The Fifth Witness,” by Michael Connelly.  Little, Brown and Company.  448 pages. $27.99.

Hard times have hit the man known as “The Lincoln Lawyer.” Criminal cases have dried up for Mickey Haller, so to make ends meet he has plunged into the foreclosure defense business. There is no shortage of foreclosure action in Los Angeles, and Mr. Connelly’s exploration of this legal domain is timely, insightful, and dramatic. 

When Mickey hears that his first foreclosure client, Lisa Trammel, has been arrested for murder, he is not particularly surprised. In a way, he is pleased – criminal defense is his passion.

Lisa is a difficult client. Headstrong and intense, she has garnered a lot of publicity as an advocate for foreclosure victims. Lisa sees banks and mortgage companies as fraudulent enterprises conspiring to fleece innocent borrowers. She may be right. She is also an undisciplined force who regularly ignores Mickey’s advice.

The man Lisa is accused of killing, Mitchell Bondurant, was a senior official at WestLand Financial, the bank foreclosing on her loan. Already suspecting Lisa of having a bipolar disorder, Mickey now suspects she just might be guilty. Certainly the case against her is a strong one, though largely circumstantial. It is so strong that Mickey is at first considering a plea bargain. But Lisa insists on her innocence, and Mickey tries hard to believe in her.

As Mickey sets his team into motion, the reader enjoys Michael Connelly’s skill at building the colorful cast of characters that populate his hero’s world. There is his investigator, Cisco, ex-member of a biker gang. There is an ex-wife, Lorna, now managing the nonexistent office out of her home. There is Mickey’s driver, Rojas, a man who cannot be fully trusted. There is his new and idealistic associate, Jennifer Aronson, nicknamed “Bullocks” for the department store building that nowhouses the law school where she earned her degree.  Each is sharply individualized and each contributes to the investigation.

Michael Connelly

As the case builds, Mickey quickly sees the need for a real office and sets one up. The back seat of the Lincoln won’t do for what is becoming a high profile case. Indeed, he sees the murder case as potentially a financial windfall, what with his share of rights to any media projects that the trial can produce. However, he has competition. A Hollywood hustler named Herb Dahl has been romancing Lisa Trammel, promising her fame and fortune. She seems an easy mark, and Mickey takes pains to make her see Dahl’s true motives.

To enjoy the complete review as it appears in the May 11, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the May 12 Naples and Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda editions, click here: Connelly pdf – 1 and here: Connelly pdf – 2

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