The Reversal, Michael Connelly

Little, Brown, 2010, 389 pages, ISBN 978-0-316-06948-9

The sheer number of Michael Connelly book reviews on this site will confirm that I’m a fan of the author: Connelly writes crisp, efficient crime thrillers, and even average efforts from him feel like top-notch novels compared to the work of other authors.

For fans, the good news is that The Reversal once again pairs up two of Connelly’s lead characters.  If “Mickey Haller works again with Harry Bosch on a case!” means nothing to you, then go read other Connelly books first (I recommend The Poet).  But if that tagline means everything, then The Reversal is written just for you.

It starts with, well, an unusual reversal of roles, as defense attorney Haller is offered a temporary prosecution job: An old case involving the kidnapping and murder of a child is being re-opened decades later due to new evidence, and Haller is the best chance to try the case from a fresh perspective.  This soon turns into an extended family affair as Haller gets to collaborate with his ex-wife and gets his half-brother Bosch as lead investigator.  As usual in Connelly thrillers, complications soon pile up.  Haller realizes that his case is tainted and that he’s being set up for a failure.  Meanwhile, Bosch keeps a close track on the newly-freed suspect given the troubling nature of his night-time habits.  It all leads up to a courthouse drama, but one that won’t go according to accepted procedures…

As with other Connelly thrillers, The Reversal features a mesmerizing mixture of solid plot mechanics, credible procedural details, well-sketched characters and clean prose.  As would suggest the hybrid nature of a novel starring a lawyer and a policeman, The Reversal is somewhere between a courtroom drama and a police thriller, drawing upon each subgenre to complicate the action.  The interaction between both half-brothers seems a bit more hopeful than most of Bosch’s previous collaborations–which inevitably ended with enough bad sentiments against Bosch to make further collaborations unthinkable.  This time, both step-brothers get along reasonably well and even discuss how their daughters could play together.  Other characters such as Rachel Walling briefly show up as reminders of the expansive nature of the Connellyverse.  Meanwhile, Haller’s musings about being on the other side of the courtroom are fresh enough to bring another angle to the usual police-driven Connelly perspective.

Where The Reversal falters is in its final fifty pages, when the meticulously constructed courtroom drama abruptly goes down in flames as the suspect does something unpredictable.  Abruptly, the novel switches gears to a disappointing ending in which gunplay takes precedence over procedure, and enough action happens off-screen to make us feel as if the novel was concluded in a rush.  A number of threads are left untied, adding to the unfinished impression.  This disappointing finale, added to a novel that doesn’t really attempt anything new, is enough to make even enthusiastic readers conclude that this isn’t one of Connelly’s best efforts.

Fortunately, it’s still good enough to keep most readers happy and satisfied.  Connelly’s latest few books, however, have generally been underwhelming as well: There’s a limit to what he can do with Bosch (Nine Dragons showed how far he could push it) and few of Connelly’s experiments with other protagonists, including a return engagement for Jack McEvoy in The Scarecrow, have been particularly successful.  While there’s no cause for alarm yet, it’s probably best to put Connelly on some kind of advance-warning watch-list for authors stuck in their own formula.  Sure, he’s doing well with routine entries… but how long can he maintain this streak?

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