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BY NICO VREELAND

Author: Michael Connelly

2010, Little, Brown and Company

Filed under: Mystery, Thrillers

They say that great novels teach you how to read them. Evidently, so do terribly written bestsellers. I labored through the first 50 pages of The Reversal, bogged down by Connelly’s atrocious, middle-school-level writing; but by halfway through I’d learned his stumbling rhythm, and I cruised through the last 200 pages in a day.

This book is exactly what literary snobs mean when they deride “plot-driven” novels. Connelly’s a pretty good plotter, and he’s simply horrible at everything else. But if you’re trapped on a plane and you desperately need to kill a few hours, this book will keep the pages turning. You’ll forget it soon after and it will never create a lasting impression, but for the brief time you’re reading it, it’s probably better than staring at the back of a seat.

The Reversal stars attorney Mickey Haller and detective Harry Bosch. Haller is a defense attorney who gets hired by a DA to prosecute a child murderer named Jason Jessup. Jessup was convicted 24 years ago of strangling a young girl, but recently got himself a retrial because DNA evidence turned out not to be his.

Here’s where we run into disappointment #1: Jessup is guilty. He is extremely, extremely guilty and there is never even a hint of doubt. The only question is how many other children he killed. So the book is wish fulfillment, plain and simple: the pleasure of it lies in watching an evil person get punished. Good thing that’s pretty fun.

So Haller prosecutes, and Bosch investigates. The narrative switches back and forth between them; funnily enough, Haller’s parts are told in first person, and Bosch’s in third person. I’m pretty sure that’s because it would otherwise be tough to tell them apart. Michael Connelly is simply terrible at character work. For all intents and purposes, his characters are mere lumps of meat, regurgitating their lines, spewing the simple facts of the plot.

Connelly’s prose and dialogue are also quite bad. For instance, when the DA is trying to convince Haller to take the case, Haller says:

“You want me to prosecute Jessup? From what I hear there’s nothing to prosecute. The case is a duck without wings. The only left to do is shoot it and eat it.”

This is one of the rare moments when Connelly tries to inject a soupcon of personality into his writing, and you can see why it’s rare: he botches it, every time. The case is a duck without wings… so it won’t fly? That’s bad? But there’s nothing to prosecute, you get to eat a duck… that’s good? So… what are you trying to say?

Here’s another hilariously confused thought, from when Haller is pondering the fact that he’s never tried a case as a prosecutor:

I’d been a card-carrying member of the defense for more than twenty years. During that time I’d grown a suspicion and a distrust of prosecutors and police that might not have equaled that of the gangbangers down in Nickerson Gardens but was at least at a level that would seem to exclude me from ever joining their ranks. Plain and simple, they wouldn’t want me and I wouldn’t want them. Except for that ex-wife I mentioned and a half brother who was an LAPD detective, I wouldn’t turn my back on any of them.

That’s muddy language that would feel awkward and stilted coming from a gorilla who’s been taught sign language. Luckily, though, most of the novel is courtroom drama and/or dialogue, which at least moves quickly. Although, calling this a “courtroom drama” is a bit like calling a See ‘n Say “agricultural education.” The prose makes the characters sound juvenile and fraudulent, and it’s a hair shy of laughable only by virtue of the legalese and the gruesome descriptions of murder.

So that’s about it. It has a plot, albeit a formulaic revenge-fantasy plot. It has nothing else of value, you’ll forget it soon after finishing, and it won’t ever be important. But if you’re desperate for a quick-moving thriller, this one moves quickly, and you’ll want to finish it. Just please try not to pay for it.

Similar books: The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown; The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

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