The Revrersal by Michael Connelly

The Reversal

by Michael Connelly

Published by Little, Brown and Company

400 pages, 2010

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Twice Sly

Reviewed by Anthony Rainone

In crime fiction, it’s often the journey taken that has as much significance as the outcome of the story, and that’s even more true in a series. In Michael Connelly’s The Reversal, the multi-novel journey of Los Angeles police detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch has presently come to rest at a turning point. He is the über-sleuth chasing down clues like a “dog with a bone.” He is seasoned and smart enough not to give a prisoner he transports to jail any insight into his thoughts or emotions through idle conversation. Yet, Bosch is older now. Out on surveillance, the former Vietnam tunnel rat clumsily falls down in the dark and nearly gives himself away to a suspect. He directs his energy better now, too. Instead of taking on police politics and archenemies such as LAPD ex-Chief Irvin Irving, Bosch is focused on his case and raising his daughter. The Bosch of The Reversal is immensely likeable, but L.A. bad guys should still tread carefully. He will always be a warrior fighting for the cause of the murdered. At the end of his career -- whenever that may be -- I fully expect him to go down swinging.

This new novel teams Bosch with his half-brother, Mickey Haller (The Brass Verdict, 2008). Haller is a defense attorney who is asked in these pages by Gabriel Williams, the district attorney for Los Angeles County, to cross the aisle and become a special prosecutor. Williams intends to retry a convicted child killer named Jason Jessup, who was imprisoned for 24 years at San Quentin but has recently been released, his conviction thrown out on the basis of evidence found using new DNA technology. Because of impropriety on the part of the original prosecution team, Williams wants someone outside of his office to spearhead Jessup’s retrial. Who could be better for that assignment than a pre-eminent defense attorney -- especially one, like Haller, who believes that the DA’s office got it right the first time?

Haller has a young daughter, Hayley, whom he wants to impress, and he sees working on the Jessup case as an opportunity to prove that he’s a stand-up guy, rather than an advocate restricted to representing a scumbag clientele (“I involuntarily conjured the image of my daughter sitting in a courtroom and watching me stand for the people, instead of the accused”). Therefore, he accepts DA Williams’ offer with two non-negotiable conditions: his ex-wife, Maggie “McFierce” McPherson, will act as his second chair; and Harry Bosch will be his investigator. For Connelly fans, this is nothing short of a Dream Team.

Jason Jessup is a predator and a manipulator. He’s the type of miscreant Bosch is used to handling -- and hating. As Connelly writes of Bosch: “He knew there were certain kinds of evil in the world that had to be contained, no matter the hardship. A child killer was at the top of that list.”

But after being convicted of abducting and murdering 12-year-old Melissa Landy, Jessup convinced an organization called the Genetic Justice Project to take up his cause. Through GJP’s efforts, it was determined that someone else’s DNA was found on Landy’s dress. The GJP subsequently hired celebrity lawyer Clive Royce to win Jessup’s release. The newly freed and smug Jessup is convinced that he has spent his last days behind bars.

In the run-up to his retrial, Jessup mugs self-assuredly for TV cameras and taunts Bosch in a courthouse bathroom. By night, however, tell-tale signs of the monster lurking behind Jessup’s public façade emerge. Followed by members of the LAPD’s Special Investigations Services, Jessup leads them to various locales throughout the city that could possibly be his former killing grounds, or perhaps the haunts of his forthcoming victims. While taking part in this surveillance, Bosch comes to believe that Jessup is on the hunt again -- possibly with Bosch’s own daughter, Maddie, as his next intended target.

The Reversal is arguably Connelly’s finest novel yet. It demonstrates the author’s smoothness of writing and his confidence in depicting both courtroom drama and police procedures. Haller’s sections of the story are in first-person, with Bosch’s in a contrasting third-person voice. Both are equally satisfying here.

Connelly makes a notable comparison between cops and lawyers in a section devoted to Bosch, and one wonders if the author isn’t revealing his own sentiments about the two disciplines. In a quiet moment during his surveillance of Jessup, Bosch muses:

It always bothered Bosch when he saw justice and the law being manipulated by smart lawyers. His part in the process was pure. He started at a crime scene and followed the evidence to a killer. There were rules along the way but at least the route was clear most of the time. But once things moved into the courthouse they took on a different shape. Lawyers argued over interpretations and theories and procedures. Nothing seemed to move in a straight line. Justice became a labyrinth.      

The reader is pulled in and engaged by Haller’s first-hand account, then let go to outwardly observe Bosch’s actions in trying to figure out Jessup’s scheme. Because the reader is constantly engaged in new and developing events either in the courtroom or through police surveillance, there is never a let-up in the tension or tempo. This is a well-oiled machine.

Haller proves to be as tenacious as his half-brother. Coupling his considerable skills and polish (think part Perry Mason, part L.A. Law) with some insightful practical assistance from McPherson, he successfully counters most of defense attorney Royce’s tactics. Haller is able to work around the DNA evidence -- after all, it wasn’t used in the first trial convicting Jessup -- but only thanks to the riveting testimony of key witness Sarah Gleason, the sister of Melissa Landy. Gleason had witnessed her sibling’s abduction as a child, and she’d then picked Jessup out of a makeshift lineup. The memory of Melissa’s slaying has tortured Gleason throughout the two-plus decades since. After turning to drugs and prostitution, hoping to dull the emotional pain caused by those memories, she is finally getting her life back. She is a brave woman, and willingly flies back to Los Angeles to face Jessup down once more. It’s not a glamorous L.A. that Gleason returns to in The Reversal. Instead, it’s a city where children are taken from suburban homes on Sunday mornings and found dead in alleyway dumpsters; where the night gives cover to murderers like Jessup, prowling in public parks and on beaches; and where cops like Bosch face off against killers, and sometimes lose.

This season, there is a new Law & Order TV franchise set in L.A. Crime fiction now has a literary equivalent in the City of Angels, two men facing off against the worst Southern California’s largest city can offer: Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch. Haller’s stint in the DA’s office is supposed to be a one-shot deal, but the door is left open for him to continue representing “the people,” if he so chooses. No matter which way he goes, Connelly’s readers know that Haller will always put the truth first. And Bosch? Well, he’s pedal to the metal all the way (“Bosch drove like he walked, pulling out quickly and throwing dust and gravel into the air. A man on a mission”). Neither one of these characters will ever go quietly into that good night. For that, we are doubly blessed. | November 2010

Anthony Rainone is a contributing editor of January Magazine and a contributor to The Rap Sheet. His newest short story, “Tomb Guardian,” appeared in the September 2010 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.