There are many shocking and depressing tales of the failure of the criminal justice system, but the persecution of the West Memphis Three has to rank among the worst. As a sociological inquiry Mara Leveritt’s book comes up empty – she never really addresses the question of how and why this disaster occurred – but as a guide to the grim proceedings that nicely complements the HBO Paradise Lost documentaries, one that in particular offers a closer examination of the role of the presiding judge, her account is both thorough and fair-minded. In trying to answer the question of what happened one comes away with a list of all the usual problems: official incompetence that settled into an early case of tunnel vision, followed by the abuse of the power of the state as it tried to defend itself and its operatives. An inverse Southern Gothic, where the narrow, prejudiced, and ignorant trash and bubbas turned out to be those in power: the police, prosecutors, and judge. Is that irony? Or only what you might expect?