Book Review: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

TheReversalUKNEW125 The Reversal
By Michael Connelly
Orion 2010

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. 

I purchased my copy of this book in Kindle format.

The Reversal at the author's (very good) website.

Other reviews of The Reversal are at: The Scotsman (2 pages); Mostly Fiction; Irish Independent; Spinetingler magazine; LA Times (a positive review despite the paper not being very positively represented in the book!); the Globe and Mail; and the Daily Beast.

Crime Watch blog features Craig Sisterson's Weekly Herald interview with the author, and a video of Gregg Hurwitz's interview with Michael Connelly at the recent Bouchercon festival.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

  1. Great to read this review. I loved “The Lincoln Lawyer,” which was one of the top legal thrillers I’d ever read and the top book of the year for me when I read it. I liked “The Brass Verdict,” and of the Harry Bosch books I’ve read, I liked them. I put this book on hold at the library a few weeks ago and hope I get it soon.

  2. Michael Connelly is such an easy read his books just flow along. I really enjoyed The Brass Verdict, and must get round to reading The Lincoln Lawyer some time, although I prefer Harry Bosch as a character to Mickey Haller

  3. Maxine – Thanks, as ever, for your thoughtful and informative review.So sorry I didn’t get a chance to take a look at this until now! It’s a superb review of what I am sure will be a superb book.

  4. “The Lincoln Lawyer” should be required reading to get into the “lover of legal thrillers” club. It’s that good. “The Reversal” is good, too, although I am still stunned by the chilling, wallop of an ending. I still feel hit in the head. So, while I’m in recovery from the ending, I’m reading distracting material, “Inspector Singh Investigates…”

  5. Agreed that The Lincoln Lawyer is good, and it is a good entry-point for Michael Connelly if people don’t want to start on the 15 or so novels that preceded it. I liked the ending of The Reversal as it avoided the obvious. Hope you are enjoying Inspector Singh, I liked that one.

  6. One thing I take exception to is the concept that jurors, defense and prosecuting attorneys all hang out together. I don’t that normally in trials in the U.S. that jurors hang out with attorneys. They’re usually kept very separate, and they’re not regarded as respectfully at are the attorneys–unfortunately. As someone who follows trials, and who worked in a nonprofit civil liberties’ office for years, I never heard of that.
    However, the defense and prosecuting attorneys do hang out together–play basketball, have coffee and lunch together. That does happen. It used to shock me when I knew of it at my job.
    The other thing is–is the U.S. more modern, materialistic, shallow and crime-riddled than other advanced, industrialized countries? Life is tough, especially during this economic crisis, but I don’t think it’s so different from other similar countries, which I do read about in the print and online news.
    Anyway, “Inspector Singh Investigates…” is fun, and it’s a bit educational, too, including on the environmental and civil liberties issues.

    • I was very surprised by that aspect of the book and am glad it isn’t true, Kathy. It is unethical for witnesses, lawyers et al could bump into each other in the public areas outside a courtroom, while a trial is still onging.

  7. Well, from my watching of the tv show “Law and Order,” there are many scenes with witnesses in the hallway, waiting to be called upon, and attorneys and others seeing them, and speaking to them. I don’t think this happens with jurors though. They have separate entrances, rooms, etc.
    As I said, I used to be shocked seeing attorneys (wonderful civil liberties’ defenders) playing sports or eating lunch with attorneys they were facing in court. However, it never harmed the integrity of the proceedings, although sometimes I wondered about the elbow jabs or the bumps on the head from the basketball games.

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