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Reviewed by Nicola Jenvey for Readers' Favorite
William Auman’s If Trees Could Testify is inspired by the cold-case double homicide of the Gahagan siblings Grady (83) and Bonnie (79) in July 1983; a brother and sister whose family history had been intrinsically linked to the small mountain community in which they resided. They lived in a Georgian-style property near Laurel Creek, Madison County, North Carolina, their home known for its antiques and extensive gold and silver coin collection. Initially, their murders were deemed a robbery, but it was 18 years before any suspects were eventually arrested and charged. Auman was the principal defense attorney in the case that remains the subject of heated debates and conjectures despite the passage of time. His fictionalized version weaves an intriguing tale of biker gangs, organized crime, and antique gold, but it is the search for justice – both for the Gahagans and the accused who spent a year in jail awaiting trial – that is the essence of how a system can break down.
If Trees Could Testify is a gripping novel-come-fictionalized reality with Auman’s easy, laconic style flowing across the pages as the events unwind. The characters seamlessly weave their stories throughout the book; almost caricatures of small-town America from the white racist biker gangs to the law enforcement officials with their own family ties through the generations. The father and his two sons, eventually arrested for the double murder, maintained their innocence throughout their lives, but it is the final showdown that reflects how true life really can be stranger than fiction and the wheels of justice are not always as slick as the layman’s interpretation.