You've read the headline: DNA test frees man after 24 years in prison.
You've felt outrage and sorrow that an innocent man did time for a crime he didn't commit — because the science doesn't lie, right?
Better hope not.
In Michael Connelly's 22nd novel, The Reversal, a DNA exoneration is the beginning of the story, not the end, and a dark and shocking story it is.
Connelly is one of the best contemporary writers of crime fiction, and in The Reversal he's at the top of his form. He's written 14 books about Los Angeles homicide detective Harry Bosch and two about Bosch's half brother, L.A. defense attorney Mickey Haller. (Haller was introduced in 2005 in The Lincoln Lawyer; a film based on that book, starring Matthew McConaughey as Haller, will be released in March.)
Each character has made a cameo appearance in a novel about the other, but in The Reversal they work a case together and share center stage in alternating chapters.
And what a case. Haller, who makes his living as a "defender of the damned," gets an unusual invitation from the Los Angeles County district attorney, Gabriel Williams: take on a special appointment as an independent prosecutor for the retrial of Jason Jessup, convicted 24 years ago of the abduction and murder of 12-year-old Melissa Landy.
At the time, despite a semen stain on the dress she wore when she died, there was no evidence the girl was sexually assaulted. But her sister's identification of Jessup and other evidence put him away for her death. Now, a DNA test has established that the semen on the dress was not Jessup's.
That's enough to get his conviction reversed — and for Jessup to file a multimillion-dollar suit against the LAPD and the DA's office. But Williams wants to try him again. It's not just a matter of wanting to prove the first conviction was valid. Williams knows who the DNA does belong to, and he still thinks Jessup is guilty.
If your head is already spinning, buckle up: That's just the first chapter. Haller has an uneasy feeling he's being played, but he can't resist the challenge of prosecuting a case. Besides, it will be a family thing. As his second chair, he requests his first ex-wife, prosecutor Maggie McPherson, a.k.a. "Maggie McFierce."
And as the case investigator? Bosch. The two men hardly know each other, despite having the same father, but Bosch has a reputation as one of the best and most dogged detectives on the force. He'll need all the skills and determination he can bring to locate witnesses so many years later, especially since the victim's parents are dead and her sister, the only witness to the abduction, has disappeared into a haze of drug abuse.
Bosch isn't just tracking witnesses. Haller makes an unorthodox and risky move in court by allowing Jessup to be released on his own recognizance: "That is correct, Your Honor. We are fully expecting Mr. Jessup to show for trial. There's no money in it for him if he doesn't."
The front-page photos of the newly freed Jessup surfing and scarfing burgers by day are one thing. An LAPD surveillance team's discovery of his late-night sojourns in isolated parks — just the sort of spots where someone might bury a body — are something else.
Connelly makes masterful use of the alternating chapters featuring his two main characters. Haller's are told in first person, full of his brash, canny voice and set mostly in the courtroom, which, in this case, offers plenty of drama. He's a strategist, always thinking one (or 10) steps ahead.
Bosch's chapters are told in third person, placing us at a little more distance from the detective, less directly privy to his thoughts, although Bosch is much more introspective than Haller. His work takes him all over Los Angeles, the city Connelly has been writing about with insight and passion for decades, and beyond.
His work also, by its nature, takes him into the past, and the novel makes skillful use of the difference in focus between investigating a case — reconstructing what has already happened — and trying one in court, which requires always projecting into the future to try to anticipate what will come next.
To build the breathtaking tension of The Reversal, Connelly deploys those two perspectives along with one strong similarity between Bosch and Haller: Both have daughters they struggle to stay close to, daughters just about the age Melissa Landy was when she died.
Twisting the spiral of danger set off by that DNA test tighter and tighter, The Reversal is an irresistible read to the very end.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.