“Legacy of Lies,” by Robert Bailey

Robert Bailey

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Make no mistake, Robert Bailey knows how to write a dynamic, riveting legal thriller with depth and emotional integrity. He’s proved this before with his award-winning, best-selling McMurtrie and Drake legal series. As Southern Literary Review previously noted, this is an author who knows how to put the thrill back in legal thriller, and the unexpected twists and dramatic climaxes in his books are more than capable of surprising his readers.

Bailey goes one step further in his newest book, Legacy of Lies. While prior books had adversaries threatening the lives of protagonists, this time a dominant threat to the main two characters comes from within. Which is not to say they aren’t in danger from outside forces, only that the enemy within is as dangerous as the enemy without. This makes Legacy of Lies even more compelling and richer for the deep humanity Bailey captures in a finely wrought thriller and stirring story of redemption.

Helen Evangeline Lewis, aka The General, is the district attorney general for a four-county area in Tennessee. Attractive, confident, and tough, she is also “for lack of a more sophisticated term, … mean. Not evil. Not bad. Mean.” She is haunted by a devastating event in her past that causes a kind of PTSD fugue at a critical junction in the story. Her ex-husband, Butch Renfroe, threatens to reveal his version of that event in order to blackmail her. He wants her to drop statutory and forcible rape charges against Michael Zannick, who is powerful, unscrupulous, and rich. She recognizes Butch must be in Zannick’s clutches but refuses to drop the charges. In the heated argument that follows, she threatens to kill her ex-husband. Her threat is overheard by her assistant district attorney.

The night after their argument, someone pistol-whips and then shoots Butch—and a neighbor witnesses Helen coming and going from his house. Traces of his blood are found in her vehicle. Her DNA is found on the victim. In short order, the local sheriff reluctantly accepts that he must arrest Helen, despite his long-time respect for her. It might all be circumstantial, but it’s a tight case establishing motive, means and opportunity.

Knowing arrest is imminent, Helen seeks out Bo Hayes to be her defense attorney. She believes that only Bo—with his courtroom skills, personal dedication and fierce drive—can save her. Bo is a tall, broad-shouldered black man who gained early fame as a football player under legendary coach Bear Bryant at The University of Alabama. However, when Helen finds him, Bo is a drunken mess, having just lost custody of his two children to their grandparents. Bo has never recovered from witnessing the murder of his beloved wife a year before and has slid into a self-pitying, useless remnant of the “wide-ass open” attorney he used to be.

After a harsh confrontation, Bo rallies sufficiently to become Helen’s defense attorney. He suspects a set-up by Zannick or others but can find no admissible evidence of a frame. As the trial approaches, he has no defense.

Right before Butch’s murder, former sheriff Ennis Petrie was granted parole after serving four years in prison upon a conviction for being one of ten KKK members who lynched Bo’s stepfather in 1966. It appears that someone pulled political strings to win freedom for Ennis in exchange for return favors. Ennis asks the question that might well define the underlying theme in the novel: “Does one act of cowardice define a whole life?” (original emphasis). Not surprisingly given their history, Bo and Helen mistrust the man.

Bo and Helen continue to wrestle with their personal demons, which could destroy them even as outside forces gather against them.

To complicate her dire situation further, a despondent Helen refuses to tell Bo the truth as the trial approaches—either about the night Butch was shot or about the earlier event in her life that Butch threatened to expose in his blackmail attempt.

A stunning discovery, a triple twist, and dramatic courtroom scenes all make for a riveting, satisfying read in what might well be Bailey’s best book to date. While the twists come as a surprise, they also seem inevitable once the shock wears off—and that is a hard thing for an author to pull off, but Bailey does it exceptionally well.

While Legacy of Lies is a stand-alone and the start of a new series, Bailey has introduced many of these characters in prior books. Fans of the McMurtrie and Drake series will recall Helen as a potential love interest and close friend of Professor Thomas McMurtrie, as well as his pro-active and powerful ally. Bo is also featured in the McMurtrie series as a powerful attorney and close friend and ally of Professor McMurtrie.

Legacy of Lies is a grand story with a morality tale vibe, gripping and thrilling throughout. It showcases Bailey once more as a writer who knows how to keep the suspense high, the pacing fast, the narrative strong, the characters compellingly complex, and his plot full of white-knuckle tension and twists.

Bailey is a trial attorney who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and three children. His McMurtrie and Drake legal series includes The Professor, Between Black and White, The Last Trial and The Final Reckoning.

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