The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Intelligent and satisfying…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

‘When I arrived, there were fifty-one women on death row in the United States. All we needed was to drop one to have a proper national beauty pageant, or add one if you wanted to include Puerto Rico and Guam.’

the execution of noa p singletonNoa P. Singleton has been on death row for 10 years and has run out of appeals. But then she’s never really fought too hard against her sentence anyway – why should she? She tells us straight away that she’s guilty. So when Marlene, the mother of the victim, turns up to say that she’s decided the death penalty is wrong and she intends to appeal for clemency, Noa feels it’s pointless. Especially since what Marlene wants most is to know what really happened on the day her daughter, Sarah, died – and Noa really isn’t willing to go into that. But since she doesn’t get visitors and since Ollie – the lawyer Marlene has asked to put the appeal together – seems like a nice, if rather naïve, young man, Noa agrees to let him visit.

The story is told in the form of a memoir Noa intends to send to Ollie after her death, with short passages inset of Marlene’s letters to her dead daughter. We gradually find out about Noa’s early life and the experiences that have shaped her. Or do we? Noa’s the first to point out that what people say isn’t necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The story unfolds slowly, leaving plenty of room for Noa to digress about the legal system, which she does with a biting sarcasm that at points, particularly early in the book, is wryly funny. Here’s her description of one of the jurors at her trial:

‘Melissa Silva, thirty-six, journalist, hungry for blood. She later wrote a self-published memoir about her experience on this case that made it to the top ten thousand books on Amazon.’

Elizabeth L Silver
Elizabeth L Silver

The characterisation of Noa is extremely well done, leaving the reader never quite sure whether she is the victim of circumstance or an evil killer who deserves to be where she is. The plot is interesting and well developed, with both strands – of the murder and of Noa’s approaching execution date – running in parallel; and tension slowly builds towards a satisfying dénouement. For me, there were a couple of weaknesses, both things I find often happen in debuts. Marlene’s voice in her letters wasn’t sufficiently different from Noa’s, which tends to remind the reader too much that both voices in reality belong to the author. Also, while I enjoyed the writing style and use of language very much, occasionally Silver falls into the trap of trying to be a bit too clever with her words, using vocabulary and descriptions that are a bit too high-flown to quite fit. But these are minor quibbles over what is overall a very impressive first novel and a satisfying and intelligent mystery. I look forward to seeing more from this talented author in the future.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

5 thoughts on “The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

  1. I think you enjoyed this one more than I did, and I can’t really talk about what bothered me about the book without going into huge spoilers. Nice review!

    • I’m intrigued now! I spotted another (Amazon) reviewer with whom I’m usually fairly in tune really didn’t like it either. I must admit I really enjoyed it (in fact, I missed some of the Andy Murray match today to finish it!). You have to give me a clue…!!

  2. 1. I’m really picky about legal fiction because I’m a lawyer, which is strange because my background is in civil not criminal law.

    2. I can’t help comparing this unreliable narrator to the one in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, and Noa just wasn’t as vivid for me.

    3. I think I was predisposed to be grumpy about this book because I was still grumpy after reading Gone Girl. Reading is funny sometimes.

    • Indeed it is! I think I was just ready for something like this after a run of things I’d been expecting to enjoy more than I did. And I did like Noa – not as a person, exactly, but as an interesting character. Also, while it was obvious there would be a twist, it wasn’t at all the twist I was expecting, which is always good!

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