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Published: Sunday, 4/17/2011

Connelly brings home the foreclosure crisis

BY OLINE H. COGDILL
SUN SENTINEL
Michael Connelly, author of "The Fifth Witness," an up-to-the-minute view of home foreclosures. Michael Connelly, author of "The Fifth Witness," an up-to-the-minute view of home foreclosures.
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Current issues often filter into the best crime fiction, making the novels as timely and relevant as possible. Best-selling author Michael Connelly tackles the foreclosure crisis in his excellent 23nd novel.

In The Fifth Witness, Connelly delivers a contemporary novel that has an up-to-the-minute view of home foreclosures -- much in the same way that he gave an insider's view of the newspaper industry in The Scarecrow (2009). But The Fifth Witness is no simple tale about an owner losing his home because of the economic downturn. Instead, Connelly tackles the industries of corruption that have popped up around foreclosures -- shady bankers, sleazy brokers, and sneaky activists -- while delivering a rousing legal thriller.

The The Fifth Witness brings back Mickey Haller, the "Lincoln Lawyer" who runs his business from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. Like just about everyone in the country, Mickey has felt the financial pinch. Although "In Los Angeles crime marched on through any economy," Mickey's would-be clients can't afford him, opting for a public defender. Reasoning that "the only growth industry in the law business was foreclosure defense," Mickey goes civil. Now Mickey is busier than ever with a diverse clientele who need help in holding onto their homes.

Lisa Trammel was the first person to answer Mickey's foreclosure ad, but she also has become his most problematic. The kind of person who blames everyone for her problems, Lisa has turned bombastic activist, picketing in front of the bank for its "fraudulent practices and heartless action." In turn, the bank has gotten a restraining order to keep Lisa away from the bank and its employees. Lisa becomes the logical suspect when mortgage banker Mitchell Bondurant is murdered in his office parking garage.

Despite mounting evidence and his doubts about Lisa, Mickey kicks into high gear to defend his client, assembling his crack team of associates and even renting an office near the courthouse. Mickey knows how to work the law to his advantage. Although his client's unsympathetic personality makes his work difficult, Mickey discovers that the victim had a shady side business, dealing with foreclosures that may have led to his death.

The Fifth Witness moves briskly through L.A.'s courts and neighborhoods as Connelly excels in combining the legal thriller with an investigative procedural. While Connelly's main series revolves around LAPD detective Harry Bosch, the author has found an intriguing secondary series with Mickey. Mickey is a complicated character like Bosch, who is his half-brother. He is both cynical and optimistic about the law; he believes in the justice system even as he manipulates it. He despises his client, yet works hard to offer her the best defense.

Mickey is the consummate deal-maker whether it comes to dealing with the prosecutor, the judge, or trying to broker a movie and book deal about the case. Mickey's confidence masks an insecurity about his personal life. A late-night drive through L.A.'s canyons with the windows down allows him to "let in the chill of the air and the loneliness work into my bones."

The Fifth Witness is the fourth novel to feature Mickey and Connelly proves that, as with Bosch, there is so much more to explore with this character. A final twist to The Fifth Witness hints at more Mickey novels.

Currently, Matthew McConaughey is starring as Mickey in the film version of The Lincoln Lawyer, which is sure to draw more readers to Connelly's novels. I've said many times that Connelly continues to show why he is one of the best -- and most consistent -- living crime writers. The Fifth Witness adds evidence to the case.



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