28 Jan / The Final Case by David Guterson [in Shelf Awareness]
David Guterson (Ed King; Snow Falling on Cedars) returns to the courtroom with The Final Case. His opening note outlines the real-life 2011 trial of parents in Skagit County, Wash., charged with the death of their adopted daughter from Ethiopia. The author “attended the trial, and conducted research and interviews in both the U.S. and Ethiopia, but – to be clear – this book is a work of fiction.”
Guterson spotlights the tragedy, but in relying on an unnamed, first-person narrator who lacks direct connection to the victim, he creates a protective distance in converting fact into fiction. The narrator is a writer who has recently “quit”: “I’m not interested anymore.” For now, he serves as willing chauffeur for his criminal attorney father, Royal. At 84, Royal still goes to his office, never mind an empty caseload. After an unexpected call, the son ferries Royal to the Skagit County jail to meet Betsy Harvey, arrested with her husband, Delvin, for homicide. Betsy is 41, mother of seven children, conservative, and fundamentalist Christian. Betsy and Delvin adopted Abeba Addisu from Ethiopia and molded her into Abigail Harvey; they’re charged with having “abused the girl until she’d died in their yard.” Abhorrence aside, Royal explains to his son, “They might have done the most evil things you can imagine … but if what they did doesn’t conform to what they’re charged with, then they’re innocent.” And so the journey begins to comprehend Abeba/Abigail’s fate that final night.
With taut control, Guterson creates a superb courtroom drama filled with characters endowed with intricate histories that eschew snap judgments. He adroitly questions and condemns white savior entitlement, complicit abuse, repeated failures of the law, and, undoubtedly, achieves justice.
Discover: This superb novel – inspired by an actual court case – confronts the multi-layered failures of family, community, and a legal system that allowed a girl adopted from Ethiopia to die in her own backyard.