Anatomy of Innocence
edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger
What an intriguing concept: have a mystery writer--someone who makes a living inventing crimes and delving into a fictitious criminal justice system--with a real-life exoneree, someone for whom a red herring was a life-altering tragedy and not just an entertaining plot twist.
I will admit I didn't read the blurb carefully enough: I hadn't realized that these would be retellings by the writers rather than interviews. Why is the distinction so important? Because retellings run the risk of stealing the speaker's voice, transforming the story to fulfil the writer's preconceived notions, and commodifying the result. A collection like this is powerful but also dangerous: while it can give voices to those who have already been forced to suffer in silence, it can also stifle them. To my mind, examples of both exist in the collection. The worst offender, in my opinion, was Laurie R. King, who attributes incredibly naive thoughts and utterly simplistic language to her interviewee. She is so condescending that it made my teeth hurt. I generally was less happy about the chapters that tried to "novelify" people's lives with overblown drama and suspense, but I deeply appreciated those that gave an account of the interview itself as a journalist would. Probably my favourite retelling was Lee Child's recounting of Kirk Bloodsworth's story, which is told as an interview, with Bloodsworth telling his story in his own words. It is touching, and most importantly, it doesn't pretend to go behind his eyes but gets out of the way and helps him tell his story.
The crimes and circumstances run the gamut, from a woman accused of shaking a baby to death to a murdered wife to a gang shooting to a vicious rape, from a clear case of racist scapegoating to mistaken eyewitnesses to damning circumstantial evidence. Many of the cases involve police who forced confessions by torturing their suspects. In some of the stories, exoneration means the real culprit was found; in others, that the state was shown to have been corrupt or not to have proved its case. (As a side note, all of the stories are present unambiguous innocence of the exoneree and negligence or evil on the part of the state, which often means dropping other aspects of the cases that muddy the water. While I understand the rationale, I prefer not to be fed an oversimplification.) Each chapter ends with an editor's note discussing the history and current status of one part of the case, from DNA testing to negligent counsel to faulty forensic science to forced confessions and mistaken eyewitnesses. If you weren't aware of the extremely broken state of the US justice system, this collection will be an eyeopener. Even if you are, Anatomy of Innocence provides an interesting opportunity to hear the repercussions of a fallible justice system on people's lives.
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, W.W. Norton and Company, in exchange for my honest review. Thanks!~~
Cross-posted on Goodreads.