The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

April 29, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): Mickey Haller has fallen on tough times. He expands his business into foreclosure defense, only to see one of his clients accused of killing the banker she blames for trying to take away her home.

Mickey puts his team into high gear to exonerate Lisa Trammel, even though the evidence and his own suspicions tell him his client is guilty. Soon after he learns that the victim had black market dealings of his own, Haller is assaulted, too—and he’s certain he’s on the right trail.

Despite the danger and uncertainty, Haller mounts the best defense of his career in a trial where the last surprise comes after the verdict is in. Connelly proves again why he “may very well be the best novelist working in the United States today”.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • This was the kind of easy, breezy read I’ve come to expect from Connelly books. There were very few extraneous scenes at all, so the plot kept moving right along.
  • Having recently seen The Lincoln Lawyer, I kept imagining Matthew McConnaughey as Mickey Haller. I thought MM was an inspired choice to play Haller, and it’s nice having a clear visual while reading.


  • Oh, boy, where to start? I think Connelly does a big disservice to his character by making everything come too easy. Did Haller make a single misstep in the courtroom? Every single strategy he employed worked out perfectly (or nearly so). What’s the point of having a lawyer that wins every motion? Where’s the tension? Setbacks and conflict are what make for good fiction. Would it kill Connelly to show Haller on the ropes once in a while instead of so far ahead of the game?
  • Connelly was more repetitive than usual in this book. How many times did Haller check his notes simply “as a show” for the jury? Yeah, we get it! He’s clever and calculating. He’s putting on a show. Enough already!!!
  • I must have missed something during the testimony, because Haller flat out stated that he thought they had a 50-50 chance at best at getting a “not guilty” verdict. Was he even paying attention to the trial? EVERYTHING went his way!!! As a reader, I had ZERO doubt at all of what the verdict would be. The case was heavily tilted in Haller’s favor from the beginning.
  • Because the case went so smoothly and was so clearly leading up to a not guilty verdict, I knew that a twist would be coming. The only “surprise” left at Connelly’s disposal at that point was having Lisa Trammel be guilty, so *yawn* when that reveal came.
  • Connelly didn’t do a good enough job of supplying Trammel with a clear-cut motive. As Haller’s team pointed out, Trammel’s foreclosure case was going her way. There was absolutely no reason for her to kill him at that point. Yes, Connelly tried to make it plausible by planting the seed that Trammel was actually a quick-tempered woman (striking a student with a three-sided ruler, etc.), but that didn’t fly. After all, she didn’t kill Bondurant in a fit of passion. She preplanned it and lay in wait for him in the parking garage. WTF? That made no sense at all.
  • Here’s another thing that made no sense. Why would Trammel need to distract Bondurant with helium balloons??? The reason Connelly gave was that she wanted to make sure he stopped walking so she’d have a chance to strike him. But there would have been much easier ways to get him to stop, such as calling out to him or making a loud noise in the garage. I suppose she wanted to be able to sneak up behind him while he was stopped, but the balloon thing was still thin as hell.
  • First Mickey Haller gets a real office complex and then he files papers to allow him to run for D.A. Again, WTF??? The “Lincoln lawyer” thing was the coolest part of the Haller character. Why would Connelly remove that aspect and make Haller just another attorney?

I usually like Connelly books and tend to give them a bit more leeway than I give other books just because they’re so enjoyable. But it really seemed like he was just going through the motions with this one. The plot is transparent, the verdict was a foregone conclusion, the “twist” was visible from a mile away, and the reveal about what actually happened in the parking garage was weak. I’ve read fore factor reviews that are more convincing than this tale, which is why I give The Fifth Witness just 2 stars out of 5.

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