What are the odds of an author, after publishing 20 novels, producing two stunning back-to-back books? In the world of contemporary noirish crime fiction, there's only one writer who can pull that sort of darkness out of a hat: Michael Connelly.
In his previous book, Nine Dragons, Connelly took his signature character - LAPD detective Harry Bosch - on a bloody weekend trip to Hong Kong in search of his teenage daughter and answers to the murder of a Chinese liquor-store owner in South L.A. As The Globe and Mail's reviewer put it, "There are more twists and turns in the final 40 or 50 pages of Nine Dragons than most books contain in their entirety."
In The Reversal, Connelly's 22nd novel, the pace is not as swift and the plotting is not as complex, but the intensity takes you back to earlier books such as The Last Coyote (1995), when Bosch was drawn to investigate a 30-year-old crime: the murder of his mother. (Connelly, incidentally, borrowed James Ellroy's past for that book. When he sought permission, Ellroy, according to Connelly, said: "Unfortunately, I don't have a franchise on murdered mothers." The hard-boiled wing nut, meanwhile, has just published The Hilliker Curse, his second memoir about his slain mother.)
In The Reversal, Connelly reunites Bosch with his half-brother, defence lawyer Mickey Haller, and the story is told in alternating first- and third-person chapters. And here's the big reversal: Bosch and Haller are on the same side. That reversal is based on another reversal: A child killer who has been in prison for nearly 24 years is released after his conviction is overturned based on new DNA evidence. The state wants to retry him, and Haller - the "defender of the people" - agrees to be an independent prosecutor, with one of his ex-wives as his second chair and Bosch as his investigator. The tricky part is, the jury can't know of the original conviction.
Part legal thriller, part police procedural, the entertainment is once again in the details. And as the heat of evil intensifies, you can smell the sulphur in the air.
Connelly says his next book will also star Mickey Haller. Meantime, for those who wonder what Haller looks like, wonder no more. Matthew McConaughey, who played the lawyer in the 1996 film adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill, is set to appear on a screen near you next spring in The Lincoln Lawyer. As for Harry Bosch, Connelly is in no hurry to make a Hollywood deal. Of course, given the character's heart of darkness, maybe he's best left to the imagination.
Larry Orenstein is a member of Crime Writers of Canada and an editor in the Comment section of The Globe and Mail.