Series: Janet Moodie
Book Number: 1
Read this book for: legal procedural, death row appeals, US mystery, strange family dynamics, realistic story
Quick Review: Satisfyingly realistic, complex and dark; a highly recommended read for thriller and true-crime fans alike.
Janet Moodie has spent years as a death row appeals attorney. Overworked and recently widowed, she’s had her fill of hopeless cases, and is determined that this will be her last. Her client is Marion ‘Andy’ Hardy, convicted along with his brother Emory of the rape and murder of two women. The brothers were tried separately, and Emory received a life sentence, while Andy got the death penalty, labeled the ringleader despite his low IQ and Emory’s dominant personality. Convinced that Andy’s previous lawyers have missed mitigating evidence that would have spared him the death penalty, Janet investigates Andy’s past, revealing a sordid and damaging upbringing, a series of errors on the part of his previous council, and most worrying of all, the possibility that there is far more to the Hardy family than was first thought. Andy may be guilty, but of what?
TWO LOST BOYS is LF Robertson’s first novel, but she draws on her background as an appeals lawyer in capital cases to create an intensely real, immersive story that feels polished and authentic in a way that many more experienced storytellers never achieve.
Let me start off by pointing out that this is not your typical James Patterson-style legal thriller. There are no car chases, shootouts or action sequences. This entire story is built around the simple mission of one lawyer to put together an appeal case for a client of hers. And that, in my opinion, is exactly what a legal thriller should be – with the focus on the legal battle, the uncovering of facts, the construction of arguments – as the stakes are already high enough, given that the execution of the client rests on the outcome.
Roberson makes this story a little more unique, however, by moving the focus away from the outcome of the case a little bit. Janet Moodie opens up a bit of a rabbit hole in her client’s past when she starts to look into his background for mitigating circumstances that will help her win the appeal. Again, this is a nod toward realism: sometimes you just have to keep digging and hope it turns up something that will help you. The pacing of these discoveries also perfectly encapsulates the jerky stop-start nature of litigation.
A brief note of praise for the characters in this novel as well: Janet is not some super-litigator, she’s an attorney with a humanity and a tendency to worry about little things that I think many can relate to. Her comfortable and familiar relationships with her neighbour and the investigator, her mundane day-to-day, and the uncomfortable nature of the work that she is doing are all deeply believable. She also does an incredible job of humanizing Andy and his family, despite the crimes that haunt them. It’s so refreshing to see the sensitive and nuanced way that she handles some of these individuals who could so easily fall into stereotype.
[MINOR SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH] The other thing that I love about this novel is the untidy ending. Robertson uses this novel to make a statement about how unsatisfactory these kinds of investigations can be, and how the justice system often results in endings where nobody truly ‘wins’. It’s powerful, and uncomfortable, and makes the novel feel that much more authentic.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a realistic legal thriller. I’d also actually recommend that true crime fans pick this one up as well; the authenticity will make you forget that you are reading fiction.