TITLE: Madman Walking (Janet Moodie #2)
AUTHOR: L.F. Robertson
376 pages, Titan Books, paperback and e-book formats, ISBN 9781785652837
DESCRIPTION: (from Goodreads): Howard Henley is not an easy case. After a disastrous attempt to defend himself, his only chance of escaping the death penalty is an appeal, and lawyer Janet Moodie is called in to work the investigation. The client is uncooperative, likely schizophrenic, although he’s never let a psychiatrist near him long enough to get a proper diagnosis. Convicted of arranging the shooting of a drug dealer, even on death row Howard doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his situation. It is up to Janet to discover just what was done and by whom, and to determine whether to risk putting her client on trial again.
MY RATING: Three out of five stars
MY THOUGHTS: disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reading Copy from Titan Books in exchange for an honest review. I’m a bit late in providing that review, as the book was released on May 15th, 2018.
I’ve struggled a little bit with composing this review, wanting to judge the book on what it is rather than what I expected it to be. Based on the back cover copy, the trailer-park cover art, and the set-up of Howard Henley’s character in the first few chapters, I was expecting something a bit grittier, more fast-paced and action-packed. What we get instead is a slow-paced, character-filled series of courtroom scenes interspersed with potential witness interviews and a large dollop of what series lead Janet Moodie’s personal life is like. While it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, it was still an interesting read.
What I found most interesting was Robertson’s far more real-life-like description of the legal proceedings. Television police procedurals and movie thrillers make it seem like police investigation and court proceedings resolve themselves in the space of a few sound cues, and of course that’s far from true. Janet Moodie’s involvement in Howard’s case takes the better part of a year in the characters’ lives, overlapping with other cases she’s involved in which are peripherally mentioned. (And that’s outside of the over ten years Howard is in prison for the crime after his own botched self-defense.) The slow, meticulous descriptions of the hearing scenes as Janet and co-counsel Mike try to convince a judge that there’s sufficient new evidence to warrant a new trial pulled me in, and really made me think about what the legal process is like, how slow the gears of justice grind. They were the most compelling parts of the book.
The voice Robertson gives her main character, in first-person narrative, is breezy and easy to relate to. There’s not a lot of heavy description of rooms and environment and people – Janet describes things the way most people would when asked “hey, tell that story about the time you defended…” Just enough detail to help us picture, not so much that it feels unnatural as conversation versus journal entry. I left the book feeling like Janet Moodie is someone I could sit and chat with over a nice coffee – or maybe some of her homemade apple cider. She’s nice. She’s smart and efficient, but down-to-earth. Her story is littered with personal trauma (the suicide of a husband) and missed opportunities (her now-grown son lives happily in Australia) and full of neighbors and former co-workers who seem equally nice. The ratio of personal scenes to courtroom events is roughly equal and really gives a good sense of who Janet is. And there’s even an adorable dog companion. There are also a few hints to what happened in the first book in the series, but presented in such a way that a reader new to the series with this book (as I was) will not feel lost; it was only after finishing the book that I read a blurb for “Two Lost Boys” and found out which of the previous clients mentioned had actually been the focus of that book.
Where the book lost me a little bit was in the presentation of Howard Henley. In an effort to prove how disconnected from reality the man is, the author puts just a little bit too much emphasis on the idea that there’s a conspiracy behind why he’s in jail when his innocence is pretty plain. The actions of certain supporting characters throughout the book make it feel like Howard’s theory is not just schizophrenic paranoia. The combination of these two strands, repeated several times throughout the book, had me expecting a twist or reveal that never comes. Don’t mistake me – there are plenty of actual twists and red herrings in the book that all make sense / make for great mis-directs … which is why the emphasis on the conspiracy theory aspect felt even more forced, one more misdirect than the book actually needed. And that detracted from my enjoyment of the book just enough that I ultimately have to say I liked it, but it didn’t totally blow me away. That said, I’d probably read another book in the series simply based on Janet Moodie’s conversational voice and the author’s clear knowledge of the legal system.