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Review by Julia Newhouse
In the wake of big criminal cases (like the recent discovery of three women held captive in Ohio for over a decade), communities tend to ask themselves what went wrong. And was an act of cruelty or violence the result of one twisted mind? Or can the blame be shared more widely? The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a fantastically written book that looks at one particular (fictitious) case. From the outset we know that Noa is to be put to death, but we don’t know why. When a new charity approaches Noa to fight a last bid to save her life, she is somewhat shocked – not least because the creator of this charity is a familiar face that she would never have imagined might offer her clemency.
The reason why Noa sits on death row provides a simmering undercurrent of anticipation. I very much wanted to know why she was there, and eagerly picked up the narrative crumbs that Elizabeth L. Silver drops through the book. When the novel opens, Noa has been in prison for a decade, and has had plenty of time to reflect on the events of her life, as well as those that directly lead to her incarceration. By slowly revealing childhood disappointments, parental shortcomings, and trying moments in Noa’s life, Silver builds a complex and enigmatic main character. This is particularly fascinating when juxtaposed with the slow reveal of Noa’s crime, and the events that led up to it. There is something poetic in the differences between Noa’s death, and that of her victim. One is a sudden death, while Noa has time to reflect on her life, her upcoming death, and her legacy: “In here” she writes, “our final words are the criminal equivalent of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
Although this book is about a crime, it is not a piece of crime fiction. It is much more about the impact that one crime has on a number of people: both those who have lost someone, and those who come to be involved in the investigation and trial: witnesses, police, lawyers, jurors. Although she doesn’t blame others outright, the narrative artistry asks plenty of questions about why Noa who needs to feel guilt about the events that culminated in her finding herself on death row. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton left me with lots of food for thought: my favourite kind of literary hang over.