The Fifth Witness

Michael Connelly

The Fifth Witness

Michael Connelly

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The Fifth Witness Summary

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American author Michael Connelly’s mystery novel The Fifth Witness (2011) is the fourth book in a series starring Michael "Mickey" Haller, a criminal defense attorney based in Los Angeles. The story follows the murder investigation of a wealthy man Mitchell Bondurant.

Mickey is the son of a well-known Los Angeles defense litigator, also named Michael Haller, who died mysteriously when Mickey was around five-years-old. Mickey’s mother was born in Mexico. He has two ex-wives, Maggie McPherson and Lorna Taylor. Mickey has a daughter, Hayley, with McPherson who works in the Los Angeles District Attorney's office as a prosecutor. The fact that Mickey frees criminals while McPherson—nicknamed "McFierce"—puts them away was a big factor in their divorce. Mickey works out of a Lincoln Town Car, as opposed to the office, leads to the nickname "The Lincoln Lawyer" by peers and others.

One of Mickey’s longtime clients, Lisa Trammel, is suspected of murdering the rich Bondurant. Trammel asks Mickey to defend her. She is a suspect despite the fact that she is much shorter than the 6'2'' Bondurant who was murdered from above with a hammer while standing up. The prosecutor of the case is Andrea Freeman, a lawyer against whom Mickey has never won a case. Mickey works to establish alternative theories behind the case with his two investigators: his ex-wife, Lorna, and her current husband, Dennis, who is nicknamed "Cisco." They discover that Bondurant has ties to various members of organized crime families. Shortly after discovering these connections, Mickey is attacked, his life threatened.

Mickey's defense strategy centers on getting organized crime boss Opparizio onto the stand and then berating him into pleading the Fifth Amendment to a question about connections to Bondurant. This, he assumes, will plant the seed in the jury's mind that Opparizio or his associates are responsible for Bondurant's murder, thus exonerating Trammel. Opparizio is also the fifth witness Mickey calls to testify, which lends double meaning to the book's title.

Despite the fact that the judge puts a stop to Mickey's questioning of Opparizio before he is able to ask some key questions, Mickey convinces the jury to find Trammel not guilty of Bondurant's murder. However, the celebration is short-lived after Mickey realizes that Trammel really is the killer. She cannot be tried again for the same crime. However, he becomes aware of another crime Trammel committed: she murdered her husband who was said to have run out on her. The husband is buried in her backyard. Mickey calls in an anonymous tip to the police, who dig up Trammel's backyard and find the body.

There are many thematic references in the book to the American bank foreclosure crisis. Bondurant was an employee at a bank responsible for many foreclosures. Prospective jury members are asked at one point if they or anyone in their family has ever owned a foreclosed property. Trammel is eager not to lose her house with the fines and lawyer fees associated with the trial, though the real reason she fears losing her house is that somebody may find the body of her husband buried in her backyard.

In a review of The Fifth Witness for The Los Angeles Times, Richard Rayner writes, "The idea that Connelly is very good comes as no surprise, but the consistency of his excellence is remarkable, given that he's publishing two books a year right now."
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