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The Reversal, Michael Connelly (2010)

As you’d expect from Michael Connelly, the chronicler of Californian crime who now lives in Florida, this book is another detailed examination of the importance of the White Heterosexual Able-Bodied Male, or WHAM. But this time you get a double-dose – in fact, a doubled double-dose. There are pairs of WHAMs on the side of both Good and Evil. The two righteous righters-of-wrong are Harry Bosch, Connelly’s LAPD murder-detective, and his half-brother, the defense attorney Micky Haller, who’s accepted an offer to appear for the prosecution in the re-trial of a child-murderer called Jason Jessup. The murderer doesn’t sound melanin-enriched, does he? But you don’t need his name to know that he isn’t: his crime is enough to ensure he can’t be anything other than a white male, in the Connelly cosmos. And it’s apparent long before the end of the book that he is guilty, although he’s been released on bail and wants to sue the state of California for a false conviction. He was found guilty in the 1980s partly on DNA evidence, when a trace of semen was discovered on the victim’s dress and shown to belong to his blood-group. But it’s turned out that it wasn’t in fact his. Twenty-first-century technology has proved the depraved deposit belonged to someone else – but still a white male, of course.

The girl’s stepfather, in fact. But he hadn’t actually been abusing the girl: she had borrowed the dress from the actual victim of abuse, her slightly older sister. Then she got snatched off the street by Jessup and strangled. Is there no limit to WHAM evil? Not in the Connelly cosmos. But the book raises a related question: Is there no limit to non-WHAM saintliness? If I didn’t know better, I’d almost start to suspect Connelly was taking the piss in one part of The Reversal, when the discoverer of the victim’s corpse testifies at the new trial. The Bosch sections of the book are written in the third person, the Haller sections in the first. Haller describes the witness being brought to the stand:

As I had gone to the lectern Bosch had left the courtroom to retrieve [William] Johnson from a witness waiting-room. He now returned with the man in tow. Johnson was small and thin with a dark mahogany complexion. He was fifty-nine but his pure white hair made him look older. Bosch walked him through the gate and then pointed him in the direction of the witness stand. (pg. 220)

The “dark mahogany complexion” and “pure white hair” are the first stages in the character’s canonization. Here are some more, as the witness identifies himself to the court and describes what he does for a living:

“…I am head of operations for the El Rey theater on Wilshire Boulevard… I make sure everything works right and runs – from the stage lights to the toilets, it’s all part of my job.”

He spoke with a slight Caribbean accent but his words were clear and understandable. (pg. 221)

So he’s Caribbean and highly competent. The saintliness is solidifying, but Connelly isn’t done. The murdered girl was callously dumped in a rubbish-bin by her WHAM killer. Haller projects a police photograph of the scene onto a screen and asks the competent Caribbean to clearly confirm that it is accurate:

“Okay, and is this what you saw when you raised the top [of the bin] and looked inside?”

Johnson didn’t answer my question at first. He just stared like everyone else in the courtroom. Then, unexpectedly, a tear rolled down his dark cheek. It was perfect. If I had been at the defense table I would have viewed it with cynicism. But I knew Johnson’s response was heartfelt and it was why I had made him my first witness.

“That’s her,” he finally said. “That’s what I saw.”

I nodded as Johnson blessed himself. (pg. 220-4)

I, on the other hand, retched. I think writing like that counts as emotional pornography, but this example has an interesting feature: the black saint who is offered for liberal self-gratification isn’t an American black but a foreign one. Is Connelly suggesting that a Caribbean is credible when weeping over the death of a white child, but a native black wouldn’t be? I don’t know, but I do know that the book, like many of Connelly’s previous books, is meant to be titillating in other ways. The details of Jessup’s known and suspected murders – he proves to have floated like a butterfly and stung like a WASP – remind me of something George Orwell said in his essay “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (1944):

It is important to note that by modern standards Raffles’s crimes are very petty ones. Four hundred pounds’ worth of jewellery seems to him an excellent haul. And though the stories are convincing in their physical detail, they contain very little sensationalism – very few corpses, hardly any blood, no sex crimes, no sadism, no perversions of any kind. It seems to be the case that the crime story, at any rate on its higher levels, has greatly increased in blood-thirstiness during the past twenty years. Some of the early detective stories do not even contain a murder. The Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance, are not all murders, and some of them do not even deal with an indictable crime. So also with the John Thorndyke stories, while of the Max Carrados stories only a minority are murders. Since 1918, however, a detective story not containing a murder has been a great rarity, and the most disgusting details of dismemberment and exhumation are commonly exploited. Some of the Peter Wimsey stories, for instance, display an extremely morbid interest in corpses.

That was written at the end of the Second World War. Plus ça change, eh? But something that has definitely changed in detective fiction is the attitude to the societies built by whites in Europe, America, and other parts of the world. Liberal writers like Connelly now attack them constantly: they’re racist, they’re oppressive, they’re evil. The Reversal re-treads a constant Connellyean theme. In several of his previous books, evil WHAMs have committed sex-crimes and hapless non-WHAMs have been unjustly accused instead. In The Reversal, an evil WHAM has committed a sex-crime and a saintly non-WHAM is weeping over the victim. That’s how it works, in the world of Bosch and Haller. But they’re WHAMs too and they’re examples of how, in liberalism, only WHAMs have free will to choose between good and evil. Bosch and Haller choose good and side with the saintly oppressed; Jessup and the stepfather choose evil and commit the oppression against the saints. But the WHAM Connelly and his WHAM fans may soon start to see that their collusion with their critics will not lead to a better world. They may even realize that sex-crimes are not always and everywhere committed by white males. But I suppose that’s what makes Connelly an imaginative writer and The Reversal a work of fiction.

Pre-previously posted (please peruse):

All Bosched-Up

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