The Fact of a Body is one of the most compelling investigations into a true-crime that I have read, perhaps because that isn’t all it is. It is how one crime can have parallels into another, entirely different life. That is how Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich feels and what she sets out to show us with this mix of true-crime and a memoir.
When Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich joins a law firm in New Orleans as an intern, whose work is based on having death sentences overturned, she feels she is about to start the career she is supposed to have. The daughter of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti the death penalty. But all that turns when she watches a video of Rick Langley who has been convicted of killing a six year old boy, Jeremy Guillory. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the crime is awful but what shocks the author most is that she feels so strongly that Rick Langley should die for the crime he committed. She no longer believes what she thought she did and that has consequences on her life.
The real question she asks is why has she changed one of her core beliefs and within this book she carries out a painstaking investigation of not only Rick Langley’s life but also that of Jeremy who was the son of a single mother, pregnant with her second son at the time of the murder. Alongside this we learn more about her own life, growing up with not so much secrets as known facts left unsaid and unexamined. In this book they are thoroughly examined. It is quite clear that the crime or more accurately where the truth lies, is something of an obsession for the author. What she bravely examines within the text is why she feels that way
All three strands of the book are equally hard to read in parts but the writing is both accessible and intelligent. The author’s own story is far from being a misery memoir where the author begs us to feel her pain, instead she shows us how her family chose to deal with the blows life dealt them and the consequences, as she sees them, of those decisions. When she examines Jeremy’s life it is with tenderness for both him and his mother. Given that we know her visceral reaction to hearing Rick Langley’s voice the author writes with care about the man himself. Not to lessen his crime in any way but by delving deeper into his story and the various explanations given to the fateful evening when Jeremy was killed, tries to find the beginning of this man’s story.
Adding to the intelligent feel are some of the points of law as she was taught complete with examples that are relevant to the criminal case which was incredibly useful for those of us less familiar with the US law. Ricky Langley had gone through three separate trials by the time Alexandria was investigating, she had three different trial transcripts and three different videotaped confessions along with DNA evidence, and masses of reports written by different experts. The author herself has to decide which of these truths is the real truth at the same time she dredges her memories from early childhood and tells her truth, which may or may not differ from those of her siblings.
I actually started reading this book after using it as one of my Tuesday Opening Paragraph posts and couldn’t put it aside which I think is testament to just how compelling, if difficult, a read this is.
I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of publication on 18 May 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.