The Reversal (A Lincoln Lawyer Novel)
Michael Connelly has a legitimate claim to being one of the greatest living writers of police procedurals. His Harry Bosch series (and Blood Work, which featured Terry McCaleb) hooked readers and critics alike from the very beginning and secured him just about every mystery award going. So when, in 1995, he wrote the legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, featuring a new hero, Mickey Haller, and not only managed to pull it off with aplomb, but to gain an instant bestseller, other writers could be forgiven for turning a particular shade of green. The Reversal, Connelly’s 22nd novel, effectively ties together both strands of his writing output, managing to satisfy those fans demanding a dark and brooding Bosch work as well as those who now see Connelly as a worthy rival to John Grisham in the field of the courtroom drama. Of course, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller have appeared on the same stage previously, in 2008’s The Brass Verdict, and 2009’s 9 Dragons, but The Reversal is a much more impressive novel than those two. Here, Connelly delivers a project which could arguably be his most accomplished work to date. In The Reversal, Mickey Haller, “defender of the damned,” reverses what he’s done all his life and crosses the bar to work for the prosecution in a brutal child murder case “. . . for the people. It should have made me feel good. It should have made me feel like I was part of something that was noble and right. But all I had was the bad feeling that I had crossed some sort of line within myself.” After over 20 years in prison, Jason Jessup’s conviction has been reversed because of new DNA evidence and the case is to be re-tried with Haller at the helm. Taking on the case is not an easy decision for Haller. He fears being hung out to dry, especially as the story-hungry media have latched onto what they believe is a wrongful conviction from the very start: “You want me to prosecute Jessup? From what I hear there’s nothing to prosecute. The case is a duck without wings. The only thing left is to shoot it and eat it.” And: “Are we trying to put a murder suspect on trial or are we just trying to save the city and county a few million bucks?” But eventually he relents and agrees to take on the new trial, on the condition that he can choose his own team, the dream team that Connelly fans have dreamed about forever. Joining Haller on the prosecution side are his investigator, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch and Maggie “McFierce” McPherson, both Connelly staples. They form a rather incestuous team, what with McFierce being his ex-wife and Bosch his half-brother. Indeed their similarities go deeper than that. Early in the novel, Bosch observes of McFierce that, like Haller and him, knows: “. . . the secret. That it wasn’t about code and procedure. It wasn’t about jurisprudence and strategy. It was about taking that dark thing that you knew was out there in the world and bringing it inside. Making it yours. Forging it over an internal fire into something sharp and strong that you could hold in your hands and fight back with. Relentlessly.” Relentless describes each of the trio in their crusade for justice. All of them feel the sharp tug of morality and righteousness behind them. Their aim? To uncover the secret of what really happened 24 years ago, when Melissa Landy was abducted from her front yard and later found in a Dumpster. All three of them are consciously shifted out of their comfort zones, with Haller moving across the bar, McPherson being forced to work with her ex-husband (a man whose moral code she vaguely doubts), and Bosch with his topsy-turvy investigation of a crime that took place over two decades ago. Bosch describes his troubles with the reversal in normal investigation techniques here: “. . . he drove in uneasy silence, brooding about a case that seemed to be proceeding backwards. He had been on it for only a few days, hadn’t had the opportunity to even become acquainted with all the facts, and here he was with the subject hooked up and in the back seat. To Bosch it felt like the arrest was coming first and the investigation wouldn’t really start until after Jessup was booked.” Many of the investigators of the previous trial are now retired, dead, or suffering from Alzheimer’s. The normal trails have gone cold, or else someone has dragged a “branch behind them to confuse” it. Even the prosecution’s star witness from 24 years ago, Melissa Landy’s sister, has suffered through breakdowns and drug abuse in the intervening years, and there is a sense that the defense will claim her testimony is not to be trusted. And yet, Connelly’s haunted heroes will not let a young girl’s murder pass unpunished. They are characters who must speak up for the silent witness, the dead girl, and discover the truth of what happened to her. Bosch feels this need like a higher calling. Named for the Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch, the veteran detective shares some of the painter’s obsessions with sin, redemption, and hell. He reads almost like a gatekeeper, desperately holding back the snarling hoards, as they threaten to overwhelm the world in their smog: “. . . there were certain kinds of evil in the world that had to be contained, no matter the hardship. A child killer was the top of that list.” They are a trio who “gotta do what you gotta do,” no matter the cost. Readers cannot help but be drawn in by this driven trio in their quest despite the initially strange narrative style; the Haller passages are all written in the first person, the Bosch episodes in the third person. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Haller reports, sometimes in diary form. He does the desk work. The first-person perspective feels right. Bosch is more unknowable, like a Western sheriff with bandits on every horizon. Bosch goes out there onto the frontier, digging out the evidence. You get the sense that even Connelly would not feel entirely comfortable inside his head. Because Bosch knows darkness and knows how it can seep into the world. Connelly also manages to balance the narrative strains adeptly; courtroom dramas can be almost operatic in their intensity and police procedurals gritty and realist, and yet here both strands interconnect brilliantly. In the midst of the legal wranglings and the political maneuverings of the court room, we have Bosch going off on his own into the wilderness, digging, digging, hoping that at some point his work will cut through the smoggy darkness if only for a moment. Of course, this being a Connelly, he never allows the light to fully emerge. There is always darkness, just as there is in the real world. But you get the real sense that with questers like Haller, McFierce, and Bosch on our side, on the side for the good, for the people, somehow, the darkness, the corruption, the greed, the amoral media, the politicians won’t win every hand. Not outright.