Sent To Me by Titan Books In Exchange For An Honest Review
15.05.2018 / Titan Books / Law-Crime-Thriller / Paperback / 384pp / 9781785652837
Target Audience: Those who enjoy thrilling legal fiction and are looking for detail, a change of pace and themes that are based on true events.
About Madman Walking
Howard Henley is not a killer. That seems obvious to lawyer Janet Moodie when she’s called in to work his appeal. Her new client was convicted of arranging the shooting of a drug dealer, but the man who pulled the trigger has always said Henley had nothing to do with it. So why is Henley the one on death row?
Janet’s new case takes her from the desperate world of prison gangs, where men are murdered as an initiation rite, to the courtroom, where a mental illness might mean the difference between life and death. Can she convince a judge of her client’s innocence before it’s too late?
L. F. Robertson grabbed my attention last year with her brilliant novel Two Lost Boys. Robertson showed us that you don’t need sensationalism and violence in a law story to make an impact. Instead LFR took us deep into the harsh world of death row appeals. Madman Walking definitely builds on this success by exploring a fundamentally true law story about how a mentally ill defendant was targeted by lawyers and manipulated into a conviction. Showing how badly some mentally ill individuals are treated by the legal system gives this novel some considerable weight and it is Robertson’s pensive and captivating writing that drives the point home. Madman Walking is a scandalous and engrossing courtroom drama that will comfortably sit alongside the works of Grisham and Baldacci in the future of the genre.
I loved the paradoxical nature of the narrative. After a horrendous courtroom battle that led him representing himself, Howard Henley was put on death row for supposedly hiring someone to kill a rival drug dealer. But the person who orchestrated the murder, Steven Scanlon, has admitted that the hit had nothing to do with Henley and that it was an assignment from the Aryan Brotherhood. As there was evidence to convict Howard and the fact that his mental state was obviously in decline, the prosecution decided to pin the murder and Henley and go for the win. Janet Moodie picks up the case nearly two decades later when it comes to light that Henley’s case was unfairly handled and there is evidence to prove his innocence. It was strange to read a law novel where a man has to prove to everyone he is guilty to save another person’s life. It was a great read and I couldn’t believe some of the twists and turns that take place within the narrative.
It was good to be back with Janet Moodie who has since attempted to move forward from her husband’s suicide and to build a more normal life. Janet still prefers solitude but she continues to fight tooth and nail for what she believes is right. I think the fact that Robertson has gone with a character that is far removed from the usual lawyer archetype is fantastic. Combined with the focus on death row appeals and habeus corpus proceedings instead of high stakes and danger makes for a unique read that I got thoroughly lost in.
I thought Henley was a quality presence in this novel with his relentless pursuit of justice was inspiring. The portrayal of his schizophrenia is potent yet sympathetic with his fears, theories and incoherent religious ramblings that all indicate he needs help now and he certainly needed help then. Robertson is all about fighting injustice and proving innocence and it gives her writing an enjoyable and fascinating energy. The pacing was kept well considering the time scale of the novel (an appeal can take years on its own). I managed to read Madman Walking in three sittings because once it had me hooked I couldn’t stop reading.
The narrative in Madman Walking was definitely a strong point. Having Janet go up against a pitball lawyer, a sensationalist prosecutor and an aggravated attorney general to clear Howard’s name was intense. Madman Walking spends a lot of time in the courtroom in the nitty gritty legal sphere and I was loving every second of it. I also thought that the insights into prison gang organisations, the Aryan Brotherhood in particular, was chilling yet incredibly interesting. As Janet progresses with her case, we see how these gangs operate, how they deliver commands and what it takes to join, among other elements. Each step of the story immersed me in the dizzying amount of time and energy it takes to win a hearing on behalf of a wrongly convicted prisoner let alone a full trial in the first place.
L. F. Robertson has written Madman Walking as a kind of open letter to the legal system to get its affairs in order in regards to the mentally ill and that message comes across well. Seeing a man being failed at every turn and sent to prison is hard to digest and Robertson has written an intelligent and well focused narrative to bring this affair to light. There needs to be more empathy and understanding when it comes to dealing the mentally ill and identifying those who really need help. Robertson is a death row appeals lawyer herself so her experiences naturally transfer to the page and it is easy to get lost in the quick witted legal back and forth.
Overall I highly recommend Madman Walking to all law and thriller readers. It is a down-to-earth and inspiring law read that will managed to surprise me and give me insights into how the mentally ill can be treated by ambitious and careless individuals and how more measures need to be put into place to protect them. L. F. Robertson has written another outstanding piece of law fiction that will remain in my thoughts for years to come. I can’t wait to get my hands on her next novel in the future.
About L. F. Robertson
L.F. Robertson is a practising defense attorney who for the last two decades has handled only death penalty appeals. Linda is the co-author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Unsolved Mysteries, and a contributor to the forensic handbooks How to Try a Murder and Irrefutable Evidence. She has had short stories published in the anthologies My Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: the Hidden Years and Sherlock Holmes: The American Years.