Will the real Harry Bosch please stand up?

The Reversal, by Michael Connelly

One of my favourite mystery characters of all time is Connelly’s LAPD detective, Harry (Hieronymous) Bosch. Bosch takes us into the gritty world of a cop in Los Angeles, bringing us along as he cracks the latest murder. We get to know him and some of his quirks, loves and weaknesses. He is tough but vulnerable, he loves jazz, he’s lonely. He has a dogged integrity that wins the reader over. His story is often horrifying but always interesting and engaging.

But, the last few Connelly mysteries have been disappointing and The Reversal is no exception. Bosch teams up with lawyer Mickey Haller to solve a 24-year-old crime. Connelly alternates point-of-view between the two men, but this technique has a very negative result. Instead of getting twice the story, we get less than half. Neither character shines; neither one is fully developed or as strong as usual. Because we only see Bosch part of the time, we don’t get the same sense of what he’s up to and the steps he’s taking to solve the crime. Half the story is missing.

The mystery itself feels dull and uninspired. The crime is brutal of course, but a re-trial after 24 years is not gripping in the way that a current crime would be. Trying to prove that the original suspect is guilty, does not provide the same suspense as following the trail of a killer and hunting him down.

One of Connelly’s strengths is his talent for making his characters come to life. Unfortunately, this does not happen in The Reversal. The characters are two-dimensional, and potentially interesting relationships are virtually ignored. Haller and Bosch are half-brothers who only learned of each other’s existence a few years earlier. They barely know each other, yet they are working together on this case. Another complex relationship is that of Bosch and his teenage daughter Madeline. She has recently come to live with him after the murder of her mother in the previous book The Nine Dragons. Suddenly, father and daughter have to learn to live together as well as deal with their grief and loss. So much scope here for personal insight or drama that would have been the norm in earlier works and might have added enough depth to round out the story.

I really wanted to like this book. I think Connelly’s earlier works are some of the best mysteries around, and he has created some complex, vulnerable, appealing characters. He can tell an exciting story like nobody else. I’m confident he’ll get back to doing that once more and that we’ll see the real Harry Bosch again soon.

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