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A Past That Breathes


A Past That Breathes

A PAST THAT BREATHES, Noel A. Obiora’s debut novel, is part courtroom fiction, part romance and part Los Angeles noir, plus a few ingredients that are added to the mix but difficult to characterize. It shows the author’s great potential as a novelist and presents an entertaining and vivid portrait of L.A. during a decade when racial divisions dominated the city’s culture and politics.

The book takes place in the 1990s in the midst of two major events: the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers, followed by the controversial verdict and racial unrest, and the trial of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. While often mentioned in the story, neither is fleshed out in any significant manner for the reader. As a surrogate, Obiora tells the story of the murder of a young musician, Goldie Silberberg, nicknamed “Footsie.”

"A PAST THAT BREATHES is an interesting portrayal of a trial with compelling characters who make it come to life. Obiora shows great promise as a writer."

There are no eyewitnesses to the crime, but police begin to focus their attention on Paul Jackson, Footsie’s former business manager and erstwhile boyfriend. Neighbors had seen them arguing on that fateful day, and the initial examination of the crime scene indicates that the victim knew her killer since there were no signs of forced entry into her apartment. Police and prosecutors immediately recognize the similarities between this homicide and the Simpson/Goldman murders because both cases involve show business personalities, a white victim and an African American suspect. As the Jackson trial is presented in the novel, there are comparisons to the Simpson debacle as it unfolds in L.A. The lessons of the latter deeply influence the actions of these characters.

The case will be prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Amy Wilson, who is newly promoted to the Major Crimes Unit. Representing Jackson will be Kenneth Brown, who recently has opened his own private practice after working in the Public Defender’s office. Wilson and Brown had attended law school together and at one point were romantically involved. Obiora seeks to weave this relationship into the story of Jackson’s murder trial, but readers may find this subplot confusing. In many legal communities, prosecutors and defense attorneys socialize together and are quite friendly. They understand that what happens outside the courtroom is separated from what occurs inside.

There is a large cast of characters here; too many of them seem to serve no purpose to the plot and only sidetrack readers from the book’s centerpiece. Once the trial commences, Obiora’s narrative is substantially well-accomplished. The witnesses are representative of law enforcement and testify in realistic fashion. The trial judge is appropriately judicial and operates on an agenda that is neither pro-prosecution nor pro-defendant. But due diligence requires me to point out that there are two major mistakes in criminal procedure that occur during the trial. Both easily could have been eliminated with simple fixes that would not have changed the story in any way. Some readers may not even recognize these missteps, but a practicing attorney such as Obiora should have spotted them.

A PAST THAT BREATHES is an interesting portrayal of a trial with compelling characters who make it come to life. Obiora shows great promise as a writer. Just like his characters who are trying their first murder case, he may have made a few mistakes along the way, but any good attorney learns from them and never repeats them in future trials.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on June 18, 2021

A Past That Breathes
by Noel A. Obiora

  • Publication Date: June 15, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Rare Bird Books
  • ISBN-10: 1644281708
  • ISBN-13: 9781644281703