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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Fifth Witness, by Michael Connelly (hardcover, $27.99)

I liked everything about this book, including the surprising explanation of the title. Michael Connelly, I never tire of saying, is one of the best storytellers around. He meticulously populates his stories with details but doesn't drown out the main story with them. In this case, Connelly has returned to the adventures of Mickey Haller, the "Lincoln Lawyer." When last we saw Mickey he had done a turn as a special prosecutor at the behest of his half-brother, Harry Bosch, star of Connelly's most famous series. Now Mickey's back is to the wall because criminal defense work has dried up, and he mostly represents people who are fighting foreclosure. In these days of economic depression and the fall-out of unscrupulous mortgage lending, the potential for clients is sadly large.

Lisa Trammel began as a foreclosure client, one whose case Mickey is on the verge of winning, when she is charged with the murder of a man whose bank held her loan. Connelly has crafted a tale that races along despite lingering over a fair amount of foundation-building as Mickey layers his case. And, of course, Connelly flourishes several aces he has kept up Mickey's sleeve.

What tips the scales in his favor as best character in a Connelly series over Harry Bosch or Terry McCaleb is Mickey's rapscallion charm. It is why his two ex-wives still think fondly of him. It is why he can get away with outrageous stunts in the courtroom. His antics anger judges, opposing counsel, and the same two ex-wives who stick by him. Connelly has created a character who is both larger-than-life and down-to-earth. Mickey is humbled by his teenage daughter, by his past as an addict, and by his search for a better self.

For this fourth book in the series, Mickey still uses the traveling office in his chauffeured Lincoln Continental, but he actually rents a real office for this case. Sadly, this may herald the downhill road for an aging avenger.

The Fifth Witness is clever. It's exciting even in the wordy courtroom scenes. (Although Stieg Larsson has my vote for best courtroom scene ever.) It's provocative in setting such a contemporary issue before us.

And, yes, there is a reference to Matthew McConaughey starring in a movie about a lawyer.

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