Michael Haller, the Lincoln lawyer, is presented with an unusual proposition – to be a special prosecutor for a 24-year-old case in which a young girl was taken from her garden one Sunday afternoon and within an hour found dead in a dumpster. A suspect, the driver of a tow truck, was quickly identified and the girl’s sister identified him as the abductor. He was tried and imprisoned for the crime.
Now, DNA analysis of some of the original evidence raises questions about the conviction, and the criminal, Jason Jessup, wins the right for a retrial. Although the detectives and lawyers involved in the original case have all died or are too ill to contribute now, the DA’s office wants an independent prosecution to reduce the damages it will have to pay out if Jessup gets off (as seems likely). Haller, until now firmly on the defence side of the line, agrees to take the case if he can employ his ex-wife, Maggie “McFierce”, as his second chair, and LAPD detective Harry Bosch as his investigator. The main plot of the book alternates the story of Bosch’s (third-person) investigation of the old case, and Haller’s first-person account of the preparation for the trial and, later, the trial itself.
The Reversal is typical, superior fare from Michael Connelly. The book works fine as a standalone but will be more enjoyable if you have read previous novels in the series, particularly the more recent ones (starting with The Lincoln Lawyer) in which Haller appears. As well as a classic investigative plot, the author is interested in exploring the human costs of crime and of the criminal justice system. As an aside I was quite shocked to realise that while a trial is under way in the US, the jurors, defence and prosecution teams all mix together in the breaks between the court sessions.
At the heart of this novel is the testimony of Sarah, the sister of the girl who was killed. Before the trial starts, Bosch and Maggie track her down and find out what has happened to her in the intervening years, since the “shearing of life that happened at that moment” when her sister was taken. This phrase speaks directly to the appeal of Connelly’s books – in modern, materialistic, shallow and crime-ridden America, the author understands this “shearing” of a life that can happen in a single moment and change it forever, and his characters are those who are there for those people in the ensuing years - to speak up for them, defend and protect them. This is big-picture stuff, but there are also plenty of little observations that make this book (in common with others by Connelly) a joy – for example when Maggie is briskly summarising the case at the outset and fails to notice, unlike Haller (Bosch’s half-brother, and more in tune with him), that “Bosch is somebody who still used the phone book instead of the internet.”
Connelly builds up the suspense in The Reversal, but does not end this novel in any of the ways one might think based on the various plotlines. It is as if the author realises he does not need to provide a manufactured climax, but can satisfy the reader by simply telling it like it is.