Just because The Unforgiven: The Untold Story of One Woman’s Search for Love and Justice is a true crime exposé doesn’t mean that the drama and tension of fiction aren’t present.
Under the dual pens of Edith Brady-Lunny and Steve Vogel, more than just the basic facts are covered. The emotional impact and anguish of a mother whose three children drown in the back seat of a car driven by her boyfriend when it plunges into the river makes for a case that wavers been a murder plot and a terrible accident.
As police interviews were conducted with a cooperative, anguished mother without benefit of counsel and were used against her, years of abuse translate from victim to perp under the criminal justice system to change not just the lives of all who survived, but an entire community.
It’s these broader questions of abuse, crime, justice, and redemption which galvanize a story made even more powerful (if that is possible) by the personal involvement of author/reporter Edith Brady-Lunny, who witnessed much, if not most, of what’s described in this book.
The story opens with Amanda Hamm screaming for help as rescuers desperately try to reach and save her children from a watery grave. It follows doctors who almost immediately question the facts of the tragedy, as their medical observations don’t jive with what the mother has reported, and carries this line of doubt through the story as more people also pick apart the sequence of events, truths, and realities.
This process of prying fact from fiction and truth from lies reveals a disturbing undercurrent of abuse that ties a search for justice to Amanda’s sense of guilt. Police efforts to reveal the truth sometimes involves recreating a likely scene, then convincing a wavering woman of what must have transpired.
Photos (black and white in the print version; color in the ebook), from pictures of the deceased kids to those of Amanda, Maurice, and the crime scene, liberally pepper the story, emphasizing the reality of events lest readers lose track of the fact that this is nonfiction.
From the wide-ranging social and legal ramifications of this particular case and its impact on a community to state social worker concerns over Hamm’s future family makeup and her children’s safety, The Unforgiven goes beyond crime and punishment to consider what constitutes either redemption or a criminal act that can and should never be forgotten or completely forgiven.
True crime readers interested in confessions, court proceedings, police procedures, and a political and public relations furor within a child welfare agency will find The Unforgiven goes far beyond the usual ‘whodunnit’ true crime approach, offering pointed considerations of justice and forgiveness.
That it moves beyond the usual documentation of events to consider not just motives but the hearts of all involved places The Unforgiven in a highly recommended category of its own in the true crime field. It deftly employs the high drama of fiction to weave a compelling, can’t-put-it-down story that considers different viewpoints as events unfold to an unexpected, riveting conclusion.