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The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (audio)

Finally got around to Michael Connelly’s latest via audiobook. This was a good way to fit it into my somewhat busy print-reading schedule (I’m working on two clunksters, Newspaper Titan and Don Quixote), but there was a drawback: I had a real problem with this narrator, and I fear that it effected my reception of the whole book, sadly. Peter Giles’ narration was so heavy and serious it weighed down the story and its potential humor.

Quick synopsis: Attorney Mickey Haller has picked up home foreclosure cases (civil) to fill out his business. But he returns to his roots as a criminal defense attorney when one of his home foreclosure clients, Lisa Trammel, is accused of the murder of a big-time banker involved in foreclosing on her home. There may even be mob involvement: is Lisa being set up?

I’m afraid my disappointment extended to Connelly as well as narrator Giles. I didn’t like how this one felt very didactic. Early on I was offended by lots of Mickey explaining things to his 14-year-old daughter, where the very awkward dialog was obviously just a mechanism to explain things to me, the reader (listener). And that daughter, by the way, seemed awfully juvenile for 14. Almost shades of Sophie’s World, shudder, which I despised. There was a didactic feel to most of the novel, in fact; Haller went out of his way in dialog to explain courtroom procedures, to his client, yes, but also to his staff, who should well know this stuff by now. His client, Lisa, is an unsympathetic character. She was meant to be unlikeable, so I guess I should give Connelly credit for the fact that she drove me nuts. But I’m not sure it was necessary that she be quite so bleating. It’s one thing to successfully pull off an unlikeable character, and another to make me cringe every time she appears.

I did like the little joke whereby Mickey is asked if perhaps Matt McConaughey wouldn’t do well playing him in a movie; but that brings me to another beef with this narrator. McConaughey’s smooth, suave, slightly fast-talking portrayal in The Lincoln Lawyer was very true to Mickey Haller’s persona on the page; whereas this audio narrator has him EM. PHA. SIZING. EVERY. WORD. in an aggressive and abrasive way that I find offputting and inaccurate. Isn’t Mickey Haller’s charm, and effectiveness as a lawyer, wrapped up in his ability to be, well, charming? Likeable? This grunting character in the audiobook doesn’t sound like the Mickey I know from his last three book appearances. It makes me wonder how much control Connelly has over these creative productions of his work – ideally, lots, and maybe that’s why Giles is the third narrator I’ve encountered in, count ’em, three Connelly audiobooks. Mr. Connelly, if you’re reading this (ha), I vote against Giles. It was all I could do to finish this book on audio. I wanted to switch over to print but oh, woe, little reading time and prior commitments.

Things did pick up considerably when we finally got into the courtroom. Haller, and Connelly, both shine in this setting, and my enjoyment of the story and the drama and the action and the dialog all increased when the trial began. I felt that the pace really ramped up; instead of feeling exasperated, I really looked forward to the next installment. But even here, Connelly’s not up to his own standards. Some of the dialog was still contrived, and there were at least two instances were Haller expressed (in his first-person narration to me, the reader) that he didn’t know how to handle a new and surprising incident. These struck me as relatively commonplace courtroom events, though, and his confusion didn’t ring true for me. I mean, I almost knew how to handle things (at least in fiction-land) from my reading in this genre. Haller’s sudden ineptitude – when his character is supposedly so slick and expert – didn’t work for me. These were minor moments, but they drew my attention because they didn’t fit.

I’m mulling over this reading (listening) experience now, wondering how things took such a poor turn for me. I have always been really excited about Connelly’s Bosch novels, and not much less so, all the rest of his work: the standalone The Scarecrow, the first Haller book The Lincoln Lawyer, etc. From his first novel on (and I have now read them ALL), I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read. How sad and concerning, then, that this latest, The Fifth Witness, is my least favorite so far!

The courtroom drama did work. Some new characters were introduced who might hold some promise, namely Haller’s new assistant counsel, Jennifer “Bullocks” Aronson. And the big revelation at the end? Well, the jury is out (ha) on this so far. I like the future and the new directions it opens up for Haller, and for Maggie McFierce. I think I’m on board with the overarching change of heart it indicates. I am relatively sure I’m on board with the idea that this is a natural progression for Haller. But I’m not completely sold on any of these arguments; and I think the reason I’m not completely sold is that Connelly didn’t sell it. This was not his strongest work.

I hope very much for more to come, soon, and better, and maybe with Bosch, rather than or in addition to Haller? Bosch is my favorite. I realize Haller’s the new star, what with The Lincoln Lawyer movie making such a big splash. It was a good movie – entertaining and well-done and perhaps most important to me, fairly faithful to the book. But I hope Connelly isn’t letting this success dictate his work.

I’m sorry to have to write anything less than glowing about my guy Connelly, but I call ’em like I see ’em. I give The Fifth Witness a “meh” and hope for more, better, soon.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Julia,

    Sorry to read that you were so disappointed with this book.

    I have always enjoyed reading Michael Connelly, although I must admit that I haven’t read this one.

    I feel much the same way about James Patterson books. He was great when he first started writing and is still unbeatable when he is the sole author of a story, The problems seem to start when he uses several different co-authors. The books get churned out at an alarmingly fast rate, get shorter and shorter almost to the point of short stories and are definitely not as plot driven.

    The whole idea of a pesonal blog is that you are voicing your own opinion, so as long as it is not slanderous, you should be able to write as you wish.

    If you didn’t like, you didn’t like it.

    I shall still probably read it and may of course see it from a whole different perspective.

    Better luck with your next book.

  2. Thanks Yvonne. We can’t win them all! And my one-and-only Patterson attempt was, indeed, one of his coauthored books (The Postcard Killers) and I thought it was pretty terrible.

    I’d be interested to hear what you think of The Fifth Witness if/when you get around to it. I’ve certainly always been a Connelly fan and expected to like this one myself! I have found a few other negative reviews of it, and even some suspicions that he may be farming out some plots a la Patterson, although I don’t think that’s a conclusion we should jump to just yet. Again, can’t win them all.

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