True crime fiction has been on the rise lately and A Past That Breathes is another that introduces new readers to the genre. The cover is beautifully illustrated, preluding perfectly the start of the book. A Past That Breathes focuses on a time when OJ Simpson’s trial was all over the news. This novel dives into this unjust system where an unfortunate death occurs and the police point to the most obvious suspect — a Black male.

In the late 1990s, a young musician, Goldie is found murdered in her apartment in Los Angeles and her ex-boyfriend, Paul Jackson is arrested on suspicion of murder. The main characters, Amy Wilson and Kenneth Brown, are two criminal lawyers thrust into the People v. Jackson case on opposite sides. Paul Jackson’s trial entangles the two in danger, love and a few twists until the very end.

“It’s a slow-moving but engaging story with moments that begin to pick up throughout the book.”

It’s a slow-moving but engaging story with moments that begin to pick up throughout the book. A Past That Breathes focuses on two initial plots that stand out — Jackson’s trial, and Amy and Kenneth’s relationship. Jackson’s trial challenges not only the lawyers, but also the readers into figuring out if he is innocent or guilty of the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Weaving a web of information and evidence throughout, readers will subconsciously feel like they’re solving the murder along with the two protagonists from the way Obiora writes the story.

It’s not until we get further into the story when Amy goes to a significant location, Cool Jo’s Cafe, that we get to learn more about Anna and Kenneth’s relationship. It becomes more apparent that both have a connection with the victim and the accused, and in some ways mirror them. Although it’s not the primary plot that Obiora sets out from, it grabs the reader’s attention and overshadows the main story with the constant back and forth between the two.

Besides the overall narrative, what draws you into A Past That Breathes more is Obiora’s writing. It’s enticing but simplistic. Obiora gives anecdotes about each character and the development of the case which are easy to follow for readers who don’t follow the plot easily. There are a number of background characters, like Big and Neda who are very close to Kenneth and Amy, that have engaging personalities. These characters differ from a regular investigator protagonist and bring relatability to the story.

“What draws you into A Past That Breathes more is Obiora’s writing. It’s enticing but simplistic.”

All in all, A Past That Breathes is an easy telling story that opens up a new world. Though it’s more factual than hugely suspenseful, the story is a nice starter read for new readers of legal and true crime. The ending’s appealing suspenseful conclusion wraps up the trial as well as Anna and Kenneth’s story, putting forward more questions as to what will happen next. Will there be a sequel? Who knows …

By Nyasha Oliver

NYASHA OLIVER is a freelance writer and the founder of Nyam with Ny. Outside of reading romance, fantasy and non-fiction books, Nyasha is passionate about inspiring more Black women to delve into living and travelling in Asia through her stories and personal experiences. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

NOEL A. OBIORA was born and raised in Nigeria and came to the United States at age seventeen. He graduated from Southern Connecticut State University and the law school at the University of Texas, Austin. After practising law in Los Angeles in the 1990s, he now lives in Northern California with his family, and since 2003 has worked as an attorney for the California Public Utilities Commission. This is his first book. You can find him at @noel.obiora on Instagram.

A Past That Breathes: How a murder case against a Black man sparks interest in the unjust systemA Past That Breathes by Noel Obiora
Published by Rare Bird on 15 June 2021
Genres: Debut, African American, Legal thriller, True crime
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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Goodreads
three-stars

In January 1995, a promising young musician was found murdered in her apartment in West Los Angeles. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime, but someone saw her arguing with her ex-boyfriend, an African American man, the day before she was found dead. With the city in the throes of the O.J. Simpson trial at the time, LAPD was not about to let another African American skip town after killing a white woman. They arrested the ex-boyfriend on circumstantial evidence but ignored other evidence found at the scene of the crime that did not support their case. This collection of evidence, and LAPD's questionable tactics, did not sit well with the younger of two deputy district attorneys assigned to the case. Worse still, the defendant had hired a lawyer with whom the younger deputy district attorney had strong mutual attractions in college and had started seeing again. Caught in a web of the ideals they swore to uphold, an affair that could destroy their careers, and social and systemic racism, the young lawyers, both trying their first murder case, are plunged into the realities of a divided city and their place within it.