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It would be easy to get hooked on this series, and it might be a beneficial addiction. For newcomers, John Bennett Allen has hit on a formula for bringing certain trials ending in convictions for murder back to the public's notice. He aims to combine readability with patient attention to detail, and his formula combines exact reporting with imaginative reconstruction. I should qualify `exact'. What I mean is that he quotes court proceedings as they happened but edits out the stumbling and stuttering that would make them intolerable in print. Names, dates and places are real. The imaginative reconstruction is applied to the jury's deliberations and represent Allen's best attempt at accounting for the processes by which the jury might possibly have reached the bit that he knows and we know for certain - their verdict.
Cameron Todd Willingham was tried and later executed for the murder of his three infant children by setting fire to his home. This was in Texas in the 90's, by which date the Lone Star State seemed to be trying to rival China in its enthusiasm for implementing the death penalty. Willingham's first trial ended in a hung jury, and his retrial can best be described as token justice, rushed through with shreds and patches of hearsay treated as evidence sufficient to take a citizen's life. It all might -- just might - have been different if the eminent fire expert Gerald Hurst had been called in earlier. Hurst totally demolished the supposedly expert evidence given at the trial regarding fires, but that was through scientific knowledge and accurate reasoning. It is perfectly possible that neither of these was very welcome to the People of Texas.Read more ›
I was bemused, then confused... then just simply pissed off reading this book. The author, for some unfathomable reason, decided to simply lift large portions of the dialogue and characters from a screenplay from the 1950s called "Twelve Angry Men" and then use this as the template for a fictional version of the Willingham jury deliberations. I have no idea WHY he thought this would be a good idea (and he seems quite proud of it, even down to citing specific favorite scenes from the movie and describing how he cleverly "adapted" them). If you wanted to write a speculative fiction (about a controversial, real-life murder case) why would you force some OTHER piece of fiction into the thing? Maybe because you're too lazy to flesh out your own characters and dialogue? I found it amateurish and frankly ethically inexcusable, considering he was dealing with an actual multiple murder case where an innocent man may have been executed -- a subject that deserved a thoughtful presentation and certainly not some misguided homage to an old, rather dated Henry Fonda movie. I must say, it gave me a sardonic chuckle to see how the "skeptical juror" character -- who is clearly the voice/alter-ego of the author -- is constantly making himself out to be the smartest guy in the room, way ahead of everybody but holding back, wryly observing and critiquing with smug satisfaction. Very strange literary exercise this. If you enjoy seeing "bad" movies that are laughable in their ineptitude, this book may entertain you in a similar way. Otherwise, stay clear. There are better ways to learn about the Willingham case if that is your goal.