I started reading Michael Connelly’s police procedurals when they first came out in the 1990s, with Concrete Blonde and Black Ice. Harry Bosch, Connelly’s Los Angeles detective, had a shard of darkness in his soul. The LA scene was gritty and cynical, and the system politicized and corrupt. Bosch was a bulldog, reckless and relentless in his search for the truth; always finding it, always holding back the darkness but never completely prevailing against a system that had corruption pulsing through its veins like blood.
Connelly went on to create two other series characters; Terry McCaleb in Blood Work and defense lawyer Mickey Haller who premieres in The Lincoln Lawyer. Haller is a risk-taker, a player, about a finger’s width away from being a scam artist. He is Harry Bosch’s half-brother.
In The Reversal, Connelly throws Bosch and Haller together and tries to meld a police thriller with a courtroom thriller. I usually enjoy courtroom dramas and I like Bosch so I thought I would like this. I was disappointed.
The book opens with Haller meeting with Gabriel Williams, the District Attorney. Williams wants Haller to come on as an independent prosecutor for one particular case. Twenty-four years earlier, Jason Jessup was convicted of the murder of twelve-year-old Melissa Landry. He strangled her and threw her body in a dumpster. At the time he police believed that Jessup had also sexually assaulted her because there was a semen stain on her dress. Now a group called Lawyers for Genetic Justice has had the semen tested and the DNA does not match Jessup. The Supreme Court has reversed the conviction and ordered that LA decide if they want to retry Jessup. The city’s zeal to retry is motivated by risk avoidance, not justice. Jessup has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the city. If he is re-convicted he has no case. Williams wants a fire-wall; he can take credit if Haller gets a conviction but if Jessup is freed, no one in his office is blamed. Haller knows this, and he feels that acting as a prosecutor is wrong for him (almost morally wrong) but he makes a deal to get some advantages for his ex-wife, who works in the DA’s office, if he gets a conviction. He also demands autonomy and his own team. This is how Bosch gets brought it. Haller requests Bosch as his investigator and his ex-wife Maggie McPherson as his second chair.
There are lots of difficulties with trying a 24-year-old case; witnesses have died, succumbed to Ahlziemer’s disease or disappeared. Adding to the challenge is the high-profile defense attorney who has taken the case pro bono. A good courtroom drama should give the reader the feeling that the home team has an uphill battle the whole way, and with the semen stain, it does seem that way at first for Haller, but not for long. There is never a time in the courtroom drama part of the book that the outcome seems questionable. Well, that’s not precisely true; there is one time. More on that in a moment.
Bosch has little trouble locating the state’s principle witness, the murdered girl’s sister who saw the man who grabbed Melissa. She identified him twenty-four-years ago; will she do it again? The intervening decades haven’t been good to her; she went through a period of drug use and prostitution arrests. She could be a very vulnerable witness and the state’s entire case rests on her credibility. Not enough suspense is developed around this. Bosch locates her in two hours. While part of this is done to show Bosch’s skill and his powerful intuition, it does undercut the drama.
Bosch soon gets sidetracked by the theory that Melissa may not have been Jessup’s first kill.. If this were Harry Bosch’s story, the idea that Melissa was a botched abduction and there were earlier victims would become the focus of the book. This is the kind of case Bosch excels at; the kind of theme that makes the Bosch books worth reading; justice for those without a voice.
This story, however, is Haller’s. Haller always only wants one thing; an acquittal. In this book he has to train himself to want a conviction. This means the less-than-gripping courtroom part of the book is the main story. Many parts of it are interesting, as Connelly shares things he learned (for example, how to use previously sworn testimony from a witness who has died) and the judge is a wonderful character. And still, no real suspense.
Haller takes two actions in this book that drive the plot. His deliberate leak to a favored reporter results in a juror being dismissed and an alternate seated, a fact that could have a powerful impact on the outcome. He also permits the release of Jessup on bail. Both of these choices stem from Haller’s defense attorney side, and both play out in the book.
The simple fact is, I don’t like Haller as a character, so sitting with him for more than half this book wasn’t fun.
There is another problem though and it goes to lack of suspense or tension. I think Connelly’s timing is off. I don’t mean timing within the story, I mean he wrote this book at the wrong time. Bosch’s last book, 9 Dragons, put his teenaged daughter at risk. Both Bosch and Haller have daughters about the same age. Jessup is free on bail. Jessup finds out where Bosch lives. Jessup probably knows where Haller lives. As the trial progresses, it seems likely that Jessup would come after one or both of the girls, but Connelly can’t do that because he just did it in his last book.
The book was blurbed by critics who said things like, “Connelly’s best yet!” It isn’t. Mistakes were made. Connelly made the mistake of thinking that Bosch and Haller would work together like chocolate and peanut butter. They don’t. Bosch is neurotic as hell, but the dark mythology of his character brings gravitas to his books, and he really does want to bring justice for those without a voice. Haller is an educated, entitled manipulator whose ego barely fits into his Lincoln town car.
I made a mistake too, buying this book thinking Bosch could save it. I know better. No more Hallers in my future. The next book due out, The Drop, is pure Bosch, and I will be happy to check that one out.