Michael Connelly’s new legal thriller starring Mikey Haller, The Fifth Witness, hits bookstores today. Here, Connelly discusses the perils of writing about a defense attorney, the source of his courtroom knowledge and the connection between Mikey and Matthew McConaughey.
Question: Michael, in The Fifth Witness, we learn that times have been tough for criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller causing him to expand his law practice into foreclosure defense. One of his foreclosure clients gets accused of killing the banker she blames for trying to take her home. Why did you decide to tackle the tricky subject of foreclosure in this book?
Michael Connelly: Two reasons. First, I am always looking for a story that reflects a little bit of what is happening in society at the moment. And this, of course, is happening. Millions of homes have been foreclosed on in the last couple years and probably millions more to come. The second reason is that I sort of fell into it. One of the attorney’s I research the Haller books with has done the same thing. Because the economic downturn has resulted in fewer clients being able to hire private defense counsel, he moved into foreclosure defense. He told me some stories about this side of the legal trade and I knew there was a story there.
Q: Here is a Mickey quote from the book: “When you come from the criminal defense bar, you are used to being despised.” Do you find it hard to create and maintain a series character who works in a profession that some people just don’t understand and often find sleazy?
MC: Absolutely. But it’s a two-sided coin. On one side there are readers who love watching a guy who is good at gaming the system. On the other, there are readers looking for a hero. So the difficulty is finding stories and situations where Mickey sort of speaks to both of these constituencies. Reading to me is about creating an empathic connection with a character. The challenge in accomplishing this as a writer is more difficult when that character, as you say, is often misunderstood and generalized as sleazy. It is so much easier to build a connection between the reader and a detective like Harry Bosch.