Book Review: Cold, Hard Facts
The Fact of a Body
Review by Luke Norton
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body is beautifully written but hard to read. Half historic crime narrative, half first-person account of abuse, the graceful story oscillates between the two main protagonists. This is a true crime book rendered with a lawyer’s fastidiousness and the imaginative power of a screenwriter’s pen.
The book is prefaced with an explanation of proximate cause (a legal framework used to determine blame in a complex series of events) and in many ways it’s a book about the law. It was as a legal intern that Alexandria first encountered Ricky Langley (a paedophile later convicted of murder), and although it was via video tape, this chance meeting would irrevocably alter the course of her life.
There’s real richness in the retelling of the case; drawn from some 300,000- plus pages of legal notes, it manages to be visceral, visual and never dull. It’s a book full of stories. Those we tell ourselves, those we know through our families, those that lawyers weave from the scraps of our lives, and those too hard to say out loud.
Throughout the many vignettes in the book moves the idea that our personal narrative (and indeed a legal case) is just a single story, with no set beginning and no definitive meaning. Rewind a little and you might have a very different understanding of why things happened the way they did. For Alexandria, her story led her to empathise with a man who strangled a six-year-old boy and hid his body. But perhaps Ricky’s story ought not to start and end there.
The book is graphic, but sensitively handled. There are many moments where you wonder why: Why did Ricky do it? Why did Alexandria’s parents keep quiet? Why delve deep into the horror of this case? And why tell the world what happened to you?
Any attempt at an answer may be too simplistic, for at its heart this is a book about humanity, the complexity of love, the nature of pain; it is a book about life’s progression, always onwards. You can pray for your son’s killer without forgiving him. You can realise you love the man that hurt you. You can be both guilty and not guilty.
That’s the beauty of this painstakingly researched book: that the reader is not asked to analyse but to empathise and, ultimately, to decide what the story really is.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
Author: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
RRP: £20 HB / £8.99 PB
Format: Hardback/Paperback (PB publishing 3rd May 2018)