The Last Stone isn’t a typical true crime novel. It doesn’t lay out the crime itself in great detail, along with the perspectives of aggrieved parties and dogged investigators. Instead, it covers the pursuit a cold case squad did on one subject based off an obscure interview that wasn’t given much credence at the time, since it was seen as a crank in the hazy days after the crime was committed.
I’m somewhat familiar with the famous story of the abduction of two girls from Wheaton Mall in the 70s. Laura Lippman wrote a fictionalized version in her book What the Dead Know. Missing children are really not my thing but I like Bowden as a writer so I figured I’d give it a shot.
And I’m glad I did. Again, what makes this book unique as compared to other true crime novels is presentation. The bulk of it is compiled of interviewers people did with Lloyd Welch, who wasn’t even on investigators radars in 1975 despite a bizarre interview he gave. Slowly but surely, and Bowden is good enough to show the “slowly” without slowing down the story altogether, it’s revealed how the investigators broke down the case, one where they had perilous little forensic evidence and a Biblical-length stack of hearsay from Welch’s troubled family. And troubled is selling it short.
Bowden breaks down the intricacies of police interrogation and how they are effective or not. I admit that while I felt no sympathy for Lloyd Welch, I also don’t know if I fully agreed with the way the tactics were utilized. It involved a lot of lying and deception, making it easy for one to get caught in a web. They got their guy here but that doesn’t always mean they should get the person they’re looking for. Bowden doesn’t take sides, which is wise but it left me thinking. At the very least, I appreciated how Bowden didn’t hail these folks as heroes but covered their struggles with their jobs.
I also appreciated that Bowden takes a broad look at the Welch clan. He doesn’t forgive them for their misdeeds, because they’ve done (or allegedly done) truly evil stuff. And yet, he also covers how the USA often leaves family’s behind with a dearth of resources and no social connectivity. Lloyd is the product of his country but he also made decisions that ruined people’s lives.
It’s a sad story, a depressing story but it’s told in an effective, engaged manner.