Two Lost Boys by L. F. Robertson is a debut novel and a legal thriller that deals with the controversial subject of the death penalty.
Death row appeals attorney Janet Moodie has had her fill with the hopelessness that comes along with helping those on death row, grinding against the vast machine that makes up the American legal system. Janet reluctantly agrees to take on the appeal of Marion “Andy” Hardy, who, along with his younger brother Emory, was convicted of raping and murdering two prostitutes. The only difference is that while Emory got life in prison, Andy got death. Andy’s low IQ brings into question the appropriateness of the death penalty, but proving that Andy’s original lawyer didn’t do a thorough job is easier said than done.
We would have to turn the field again after nearly fifteen years, reading every piece of paper, looking for things not done, favorable evidence and witnesses that weren’t found or, if found, were ignored—anything that might help convince some judge that Andy deserved a new trial. We were starting at square one, with nothing obvious to look for—hell, we were behind square one, because Andy had had a trial and appeal. We’d have to convince a skeptical judge that enough evidence had been left out the first time, that Andy deserved a chance to be tried again.
Witnesses would have to be spoken to, family members tracked down, and all the while, Janet would need to maintain the detachment needed to effectively investigate a case that had already been tried and put to rest. And she must never to forget that there are still two dead girls that were the result of the brothers’ murderous crime spree, not to mention a third who actually survived.
The crime-scene photos and autopsy reports were worse than most, given the state of the bodies, though they lacked the Grand Guignol quality of images on television crime shows. There was no teasing suspense, no ominous music or disorienting camera angles—just dark earth and earth colored bone and dried flesh and stained and crumpled shreds of clothing, made two-dimensional and nearly unintelligible by the camera flash. They weren’t terrifying, just sickening and sobering—the human husk resolving itself back into earth, dust to dust, a crime scene as momento mori.
Sometimes, though, I ran across an unexpected detail, something in the background, in a photograph, or said in a report or transcript, that pierced my detachment. The reports and photos called up scenes; the policeman turning a shovel full of earth and smelling the musky, sour, tang of decomposing animal flesh, saying softly, “Oh hell” in the instant before collecting himself and calling out, “We’ve got one here.” The faces of the mothers of the girls when they were told that their bodies have been found. A smiling baby in her pink sundress in a photo in Brandy’s wallet, a child who would never see her mother again.
As Janet and her partner Dave work through the case, she realizes there’s much more to this story than meets the eye. She discovers that Andy’s past is a patchwork of hopelessness and manipulation at the hands of an abusive father and a manipulative brother, and their mother Evie may have some secrets of her own—secrets that may have twisted the course of justice.
For most, the revelations would be shocking, but not for a family that could never get out from under crushing poverty, casual violence, and the cumulative effects of alcoholism, joblessness, and the hopelessness that can consume and poison a family irreversibly. Questions of mercy must be weighed against questions of justice, and it just might push Janet—who nurses her own pain after her husband’s suicide—and her own struggles with anxiety to her limit.
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