Two Lost Boys by L F Robertson
|Two Lost Boys by L F Robertson|
|Reviewer: James Michael Warren|
|Summary: A unique narrative and a confident navigation of the American legal system are this debut novel's most compelling qualities. But a glacial pace and a meek mystery combined with even meeker prose make for a disappointing tale that never quite flies.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 400||Date: May 2017|
|Publisher: Titan Books|
Janet Moodie is a seasoned death row appeals attorney. Overworked, lonely, and feeling like she's drunk her fill of desperation and sadness, she takes on one final case, determined it will be her last. Marion 'Andy' Hardy is sweet, polite, good-natured, and a little slow, but according to the state, he's also a rapist and a murderer. Moodie must untangle his ageing case against the clock. She can't save his innocence, but maybe she can save his life.
It is a mistake to think that strengths and weaknesses apply universally across books. Or rather, it is a mistake to believe that any quality – pace, premise, humour, heart – is descriptive enough in its own right to explain why a story doesn't work. Rather, each quality has a relationship with another, and it is in those failed relationships that we perceive fault.
Two Lost Boys, the debut novel from actual death row lawyer L.F. Robertson, on the surface has 'strengths'. The first is uniqueness. Moodie is not trying to prove absolute innocence, but rather, mitigate the sentence of an old case enough to save her client from oblivion. The second, that the author's first-hand knowledge of the American legal system results in a confident, clear description of each process as the appeal unfolds. Combined, these two qualities might be enough to appease fans of a saturated genre.
Unfortunately, Two Lost Boys is glacially slow - a quality that would be fine if it chimed with the crux of its premise. We are supposed to be rooting for the exoneration of Andy from the punishment of nothingness, a fate that should loom on the horizon like a black wave bearing to shore. Instead, we are treated to a series of frustrating conversations in offices and homes as examinations are delayed, appeals lodged and rejected, and tidbits of information about Andy's past – much of it immediately guessable from the first hundred pages – float to the surface in pockets over the course of a few months.
It doesn't help that Andy himself – termed 'retarded' by medical definition in the book – is broadly incapable of understanding the stakes himself. And so we are left with the thoughts and feelings of Janet Moodie to rack up the tension. But Moodie is a doll, a hollow shell painted with the actions and trappings of things a person says and does. General anxiety, a trite tragedy about a dead ex-husband, a penchant for dogs – she is never compelling enough to like, or real enough to love.
The same, sadly, applies to the rest of the book. The prose, clean, spartan, occasionally direct, concise and meaningful, is too often mundane and meek. It scrambles along like a lame bird. Stuttering, stumbling, just finding enough momentum to keep itself going. As a consequence, no setting – room or landscape – rises from the earth into a convincing three-dimensional image. No character actualises from dust and shadow into flesh and blood.
To its credit, Two Lost boys finishes strongly. Not with a bang, but as the plot peters out, with a measured musing on the begetting of violence and its echoes through generations. It is about hopelessness, the tragedy of life and family as a trap, even managing to echo Cormac McCarthy's cynicism in all the right ways. But by this point, it only leads to lament that the rest was so weak.
A death row novel by a death row lawyer. Relatively devoid of sensationalism, dare I say, probably relatively real. What may be true to life, however, is achieved here to the detriment of fiction. Strengths become weakness when they fail to marry the rest of the form. Two Lost Boys is too slow, too simple, too tentative in its style to burst into life. It has a promising ending though, and it is from this that the author should be seeking to build.
You can read more book reviews or buy Two Lost Boys by L F Robertson at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Two Lost Boys by L F Robertson at Amazon.com.
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