ORION, £18.99 Order for £17.09 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Fifth Witness, By Michael Connelly
A story that gives society little credit
Monday 16 May 2011
It's a moot point just how responsibly popular fiction can address serious issues of the day, as opposed to simply mining such things for material.
But as ammunition for those who feel that crime fiction is a formidable tool, Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness is useful. This is a trenchant novel that, within the framework of a diverting entertainment, makes some persuasive points about a nation in thrall to the banks (the US, but, by extension, this country) – and about the limits of personal responsibility.
The issue of foreclosures – the incendiary topic that has brought about so many economic woes – powers the plot. Connelly's opportunistic but sympathetic lawyer, Mickey Haller, is making a speciality of keeping roofs over his clients' heads. A whole industry has grown up around the burgeoning foreclosures, involving manipulative bankers, crooked brokers and even untrustworthy activists. By pointing out the loopholes used by the banks to evict people from their homes, Mickey is able to buy some precious breathing space. But he is no idealist, and is well aware that his clients are in situations of their own making.
His most tricky client is volatile Lisa Trammel, who has made herself massively unpopular with the bank trying to evict her by staging street demonstrations and harassment of bank personnel (she is under a restraining order). Mickey, while fighting her corner, is wryly aware that Lisa spends very little time considering that she needs to pay her debts. Things become much darker when mortgage broker Mitchell Bondurant is murdered – and Lisa is in the frame. Mickey (while harbouring doubts) moves into high gear in order to defend her. He has a mass of problems, not least his client's personality, but as Mickey learns about the murder victim's dubious subsidiary businesses, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems.
As ever, Connelly makes Mickey the perfect conduit through the hazardous jungles of LA courtrooms and low-rent neighbourhoods. But the social underpinnings here are what really engage the author: The Fifth Witness will not be comfortable reading for bankers, but neither is it indulgent towards those who feel that the world owes them a house and a living. Mickey may champion the latter, but he knows that most of his clients will end up on the scrapheap. This is as diverting an outing for Connelly's hero as we have been granted.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
Pottermore: JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story featuring 'greying' 33-year-old wizard
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt stars in visceral and brutally ugly drama that reminds us war is hell
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Putin accuses US of causing global instability