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Onyx reviews: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Twenty-four years ago, Jason Jessup was convicted of kidnapping and killing twelve-year-old Melissa Landry. Jessup's conviction was reversed after DNA testing revealed that semen found on the murdered girl's dress wasn't his. Jessup plans to sue the city for wrongful conviction and the local media are championing his cause, buying into the argument that the DNA revelation is exculpatory. The district attorney still believes Jessup is guilty, though, and decides to retry the case. Cynics think it's an effort to short circuit the lawsuit.

Even though most people involved in the first prosecution are retired or dead, politics still infect the case. The D.A. asks long-time defense attorney Mickey Haller (introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer) to become a one-time independent prosecutor. Ordinarily, Haller would laugh in the D.A.'s face, but since the case involves the murder of a young girl, he agrees. He insists on being able to pick his own team, assigning his ex-wife, ADA Maggie "McFierce" McPherson, as second chair. He also extracts a promise that Maggie will be promoted out of her dead-end position if he gets a conviction. To keep the affair in the family, his asks his half-brother, Harry Bosch, to become lead investigator. All three team members have young daughters.

From the outset, Haller flaunts his independence, riling the district attorney by acting without consultation. After elbowing his way to the microphone at a press conference, he surprises everyone by letting Jessup free on his own recognizance instead of demanding bail. He knows that Jessup needs to be exonerated to bolster his plans to sue the city, so there's no chance he'll flee the jurisdiction.

Though it's Haller's case, he and Bosch are equal protagonists in the novel. Alternating chapters feature first-person narrative of trial preparations and courtroom scenes by Haller and a limited third-person perspective of Bosch's investigation. It's a useful approach, since the men are similar in many ways. Haller is the more garrulous and outgoing of the two. The third person point of view gives readers a rare external perspective on the deep-thinking but stoic homicide detective. 

The Reversal treads on John Grisham territory. It even incorporates one of Grisham's pet projects in the form of a fictionalized version of the Innocence Project, which facilitates testing of DNA in convictions where the technology wasn't available during the initial investigation. Haller and Maggie don't think the new results necessarily exclude Jessup as the murderer, believing they can present an alternate theory of the DNA evidence.

The prosecution has one star witness: Melissa's sister, who identified Jessup on the day of the murder. Since the first trial, she descended into drug addiction and has an arrest for solicitation, but she's been clean for several years. It's up to Bosch, who has extensive experience working cold cases, to prepare against any possible character assassination by defense attorney Clever Clive Royce.

With Maggie's help, Haller navigates the case from an unfamiliar side of the aisle, while fuming over Royce's cunning tactics—exactly the sorts of things he'd try to pull off in the same position. He also has to try the case without allowing anyone to allude to the fact that Jessup was previously convicted of the murder, which would cause a mistrial.

Connelly has a difficult course of his own to navigate. The stakes in the case are nebulous. Haller's reputation isn't at risk—no matter if he wins or loses, he'll go back to his practice untainted. The killer has already spent 24 years in prison, so it's not like he'll go unpunished if he wins the second trial. Most of the victim's family are dead, which takes most of the drama out of the trial scenes since Bosch simply reads back testimony from the first trial without its attendant emotion.

Bosch consults his old girlfriend, FBI profiler Rachel Walling, who believes that the original investigators misread Jessup, opening up the possibility that he may have killed before. Bosch has him followed around the clock by the Special Investigations Section, who report that Jessup is exhibiting strange behavior, hanging out in remote locations late at night, burning candles. Bosch speculates that he may be revisiting the scenes of past crimes, or perhaps even the burial sites of previous victims, but Haller has to be careful to keep these suspicions from unduly complicating his case. This increases the stakes, and an additional threat is implied when Jessup is observed sitting in his car outside Bosch's house one evening.

The trial, however, does not create much suspense, because everything seems to be going Haller's way. Every gambit he risks pays off, and he turns aside every one of Clever Clive's efforts to hack away at the prosecution because his years of experience as a defense attorney allow him to anticipate these moves.

Then Connelly turns everything upside down, making a risky and potentially controversial decision with the novel's resolution. He leaves the door open for a sequel that would pick up exactly where The Reversal ends. It's not exactly a cliffhanger, but many readers may feel dissatisfied by the surprising turn of events.

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