Notes on an Execution
In the tradition of Long Bright River and The Mars Room, a gripping and atmospheric work of literary suspense that deconstructs the story of a serial killer on death row, told primarily through the eyes of the women in his life—from the bestselling author of Girl in Snow.
Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. He hoped it wouldn’t end like this, not for him.
Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the homicide detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake.
Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.
I finished reading this book last night and it is still siting with me, nudging me to think, reminding me of the subtleties exposed, the many “what if’s”, the many ways violence is perpetrated against women.
One of the most interesting questions this book raises is why do we continually look for excuses for bad behavior and then accept the behaviour? I love how this question has been woven into the text; the excuse of bad parenting/poor role models, nature versus nurture, low socio economic influences, a hint of a head injury, needing a chance, “it’s not his fault”… the list goes on.
This book begins with a horrific story of domestic abuse; the grooming, the social isolation, the financial control, control of resources – including food… this in itself is a shocking but accurate portrait of abuse. Into this situation a serial killer is born. Once this part of the narrative is unlocked, we then see the world mostly through the eyes of the women in the orbit of this killer, who is now on death row.
This is an intelligently written discourse on violence against women, the excuses we make to ourselves, the excuses society seems keen to seek out, and a serial killer narrative all at the same time – what a feat to capture so much in one book! Taught, at times ugly, very sad, thought provoking, engaging…
It does sound like the kind of book that keeps you thinking long after you’ve read it, Carol. And it’s a really interesting idea to look at the development of a criminal through the eyes of different people like that. I can see how it would be potentially unsettling, but also give a lot of ‘food for thought,’ too. And those sorts of books can be memorable.
I think this is one you should read Margot – it has so much to offer
Great review Carol!