Book review: ‘The Reversal’ by Michael Connelly

Special to the Los Angeles Times

The Reversal

A Novel

Michael Connelly

Little, Brown: 394 pp., $27.99

Los Angeles has much to lament. Our Dodgers, victims of a broken marriage, are the neglected boys of summer. The Trojans are on probation, the Bruins are bad and the NFL has abandoned us entirely. City Hall’s a morass, Hollywood an aging incompetent — building vacancies line the potholed streets, and there is little comfort to be found anywhere.

Thank God for Michael Connelly. Without him, Los Angeles would just be Houston without humidity, Phoenix with the sea.

“The Reversal,” Connelly’s new novel, might be his best: a crackling-good read, smart and emotionally satisfying. It manages to condense decades of time and reams of information into a compelling narrative that adeptly explores various elements of L.A.’s own version of what passes as a criminal justice system.

Twenty-four years ago, while playing hide-and-go-seek with her sister, little Melissa Landy was taken from the frontyard of her Hancock Park home. Tow truck driver Jason Jessup was convicted of her murder. Now that DNA evidence has led to the reversal of Jessup’s conviction, two of Connelly’s greatest creations — LAPD Det. Harry Bosch and longtime defense attorney Mickey Haller — must join forces to get justice for the dead girl’s family while preventing further murders.

Bosch, who has appeared in many of Connelly’s books, is a familiar and welcome presence. The LAPD’s greatest brokenhearted idealist, Bosch is tough, sensitive and driven, conducting the investigation into the old murder with his usual sense of purpose. Unlike wine, criminal cases don’t get better with age. Bosch must deal with archaic lost evidence and witnesses who are either dead or unable to remember decades-old events because of Alzheimer’s, addiction or a refusal to revisit traumatic memories.

It is painstaking work but never boring. Connelly, once a Los Angeles Times reporter, retains his journalistic gifts; his eye for detail is spot-on — readers learn how an evidence box is packed, what a junkie’s flop hotel looks like and the hue of jailhouse tattoos.

As always, it is a pleasure to follow Bosch as he uses chits with the FBI to get some information or comes close to crossing procedural or ethical lines to protect those he cares about. A decent man doing indecent work, a Philip Marlowe on the job, Bosch, a 36-year veteran of the force, never fails to fascinate readers.

That Connelly manages to make Haller’s switch from defense to prosecution both plausible and entertaining is a neat trick. The star of Connelly’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Haller is a wisecracking cynic, a highly competent, grizzled veteran of countless courtroom battles. Less dignified than Bosch, perhaps, Haller at heart is just as decent. As in the real world, the work of Haller the prosecutor may not be as immediately intriguing as Bosch’s, but in time the courtroom scenes provide some enormous payoffs.

Connelly nails the details of Haller’s world as precisely as he nails Bosch’s. During Haller’s appearance in Department 100, the largest courtroom in the Criminal Courts Building, Connelly describes the tired judge sitting on the bench “with his head down and his sharp shoulders jutting up and closer to his ears with each passing year. His black robe gave them the appearance of folded wings and gave him the overall appearance of a vulture waiting impatiently to dine on the bloody detritus of the justice system.”

Connelly portrays the grinding process of a criminal trial, the emotional ups and downs of the lawyers involved, the peevishness of the judge and the pettiness of the jurors and gadflies with remarkable precision. This gives the book much credibility and imbues its characters with so much reality that the reader doesn’t even question that the public embraces the exonerated Jessup, who also happens to be a convicted child-killer, as a folk hero or that there has ever been anything known as an “independent prosecutor” in the Los Angeles D.A.’s office.

“The Reversal” confirms Connelly’s status as a cultural institution in this city: Taken together, his 22 novels form an indispensable, compelling chronicle of L.A. and LAPD history from the Daryl Gates era up through the Charlie Beck administration, from Rodney G. King to O.J. Simpson to the Rampart scandal. His books are rich in the details and meanings of seismic events that have formed the rough contours of L.A. law and order.

Connelly is too honest a writer to end this book too neatly. Law, love and life are messy affairs, and bittersweet. But they are not without hope, even in their darkest moments. By suggesting a continuing partnership between Bosch and Haller, Connelly lets some light in. It is filtered through the haze that makes L.A.’s gauzy beauty the stuff of nightmares, but also of our better dreams.

We’ve still got Vin Scully, at least for another year, Huell Howser, the Lakers. And we’ve got Connelly. To quote another L.A. luminary, Randy Newman: I love L.A.

Shapiro, a former federal prosecutor, is an adjunct law professor at USC and the executive producer of the upcoming NBC comedy “The Paul Reiser Show.”