Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Michael Connelly: The Reversal (2010)

Michael Connelly is a fine writer, and I have read all of his books. He is most famous for his LA cop Harry Bosch, who features in many of his books, including this one. These novels tend to be police procedurals until near the end, when a thriller-style twist leads to an exciting ending. But for me these endings usually come across as contrived and unlikely, a mechanism for avoiding the simple arrest-the-suspect conclusion which is pretty standard in crime fiction (and this disappointment has generally put me off reviewing them). This sort of ending does seem especially likely in American crime writing; Linda Fairstein is another writer whose books I like who does this, for example. All this means that in Michael Connelly's writing I prefer the books which have a different lead character.

In The Reversal the main character is Mickey Haller, even though Bosch does play an important part in the story as well. He is a Californian defence lawyer who has also appeared in several previous Connelly novels, starting with The Lincoln Lawyer. This is the third novel in which he works with Bosch, but there is a big difference here to Haller's past. He has been asked to act as a state prosecution lawyer, in a case where it is important that the work done appears to be independent of the state machinery. (The title in part refers to Haller's crossing from one side to the other in this way.)

The case is a retrial of a child murder, where the man convicted at the original trial has, after twenty four years in prison, been able to have the verdict overturned (reversed, in fact - another reference made by the novel's title) on procedural grounds. The process is that the case needs to be retried, as the Californian justice department still believes in the guilt of the imprisoned man, rather than the prisoner being released as though an appeal had been granted. Since the knowledge that the accused had already been convicted and imprisoned might influence the jury, the whole case is structured as though the first trial had never happened. I'm not an expert on American law, but this all seems rather over-elaborate: more designed to be the background for novels like this than the way a real life legal system would work. I'd certainly not heard of this happening before.

So The Reversal is a courtroom thriller. As such, it confirms to the stereotypes of the subgenre, as laid down a long time ago by Erle Stanley Gardner in his Perry Mason novels: surprise testimony, unreliable witnesses, defence and prosecution tricks, and legal rhetoric with constant se of objections on both sides: all the ingredients which make a thriller out of the tedium which is the norm in most legal trials. Like most of the genre, the reader is firmly encouraged to sympathise with one side; in this case, it is the perhaps less popular choice, the prosecution.

As a courtroom thriller, The Reversal is one of the best. Connelly keeps a fairly tight rein on the plausibility of his plot, while keeping the story engrossing. My rating - 8/10.

Edition: Orion, 2010
Review number: 1420

1 comment:

Andreas said...

I really enjoyed this book, and it was one of the books that inspired me to write a mini-biography on the author.

Check it out at: