... a stirring, suspenseful, thoughtful story that, miraculously, neither oversimplifies the details nor gets lost in the thicket of a four-decade case file. This is a cat-and-mouse tale, told beautifully. But like all great true crime, The Last Stone finds its power not by leaning into cliché but by resisting it — pushing for something more realistic, more evocative of a deeper truth ... Bowden is very good at showing how both sides in this protracted interrogation are lying.
The Last Stone is a rigorous documenting of the 40-year journey taken by Montgomery County detectives and the cold-case team that interrogated Lloyd Welch. It's a riveting, serpentine story about the dogged pursuit of the truth, regardless of the outcome or the cost. And it's a useful reminder that in an age of science, forensics, and video and data surveillance, the ability of one human being to coax the truth from another remains the cornerstone of a successful investigation.
On the one hand, the wealth of transcripts and recordings allows Bowden to re-create scenes and conversations in great detail and with (one presumes) near-perfect fidelity. But for a writer perhaps more obsessed with his subject than his readers will be, there is such a thing as too much material to work with. Bowden takes us through endless permutations of Welch’s ever-changing story, leading us down every blind alley of obfuscation and pulling us into every whirlpool of internal contradiction ... This kind of wheel-spinning, combined with the likelihood that some readers will find the Welch clan difficult to stomach even in small doses, can make reading the book an unsavory experience at times ... Even so, this is a story of extraordinary persistence and the grimmest, least romantic kind of heroism there is, and Bowden tells it with the dexterity of an old pro, bringing coherence to a narrative that in other hands may have seemed merely muddled and infuriating.
... Mr. Bowden painstakingly reconstructs how the earnest detectives inched closer and closer to the truth. I wish I could say that this approach works. It doesn’t. In fairness, the problems derive more from the material that Mr. Bowden has chosen than from anything he does to shape it. For starters, the book lacks suspense ... Mr. Bowden wants us to believe that Welch is a skilled con artist, but he comes off as a desperate moron. And there’s no escaping him. A book is not a party where the reader can dodge a boor by crossing the room. The Last Stone amounts to a Lloyd Welch-a-thon ... One expects Welch to crack, or at least light a path to the truth. Yet the book’s turning point comes not from information furnished by Welch but from a detective’s decision to search the house where he was living in 1975 ... I’m not sure that The Last Stone should even be a book. There is no tidy ending. The why of it all remains beyond Mr. Bowden’s grasp. It might have worked better as a magazine article, which is a shame, because Mr. Bowden is a first-rate writer, a pro’s pro. But even pros have an off game now and then.
Bowden returns to the story that catapulted his career with a horrific portrait of a sociopath and honors the dedicated officers who were determined to get justice for two innocent girls and their grieving family.
... mesmerizing ... The Last Stone will leave readers on the edge of their seats as a group of indefatigable detectives tries to unearth the carefully concealed, unspeakable truths behind a decades-old tragedy.
Although the legal denouement is frustratingly opaque and leaves behind many unanswered questions, Bowden expertly maintains suspense as long as possible, re-creating the detectives’ painstaking efforts via the documentation of their bedeviling focus on Welch. A keen synthesis of an intricate, decadeslong investigation, a stomach-churning unsolved crime, and a solid grasp of time, place, and character results in what is sure to be another bestseller for Bowden.
Bowden... delivers a narrative nonfiction masterpiece in this account of fiercely dedicated police detectives working to close a cold case ... Bowden makes extensive use of taped recordings of those conversations to bring the reader inside the interrogation room as the detectives inch closer to the truth. This is an intelligent page-turner likely to appeal even to readers who normally avoid true crime.