The lives of three women orbit a murder and the pending execution—in a debut effort that straddles literary and crime fiction.
Chapters alternate among the three. Karen is the murderer, stuck on death row, 62 days from her date with death, but serving as a kind of counselor to other women who find themselves in Texas’s penal system. When a new inmate, Satan Killer (a.k.a. Sharleen), arrives, “Karen thinks about things to say to Sharleen. She wants to tell her that she is not alone in knowing what it feels like to tear through human life.” Franny is a doctor on the spiritual outs, and as soon as she gets out of her engagement, she’ll be headed to new work at the prison, where she’ll encounter Karen. Celia, meanwhile, the wife of the man Karen murdered, is pondering how to deal with her loss (“Although my mother disagrees, I have moved forward with my life. For example, I’ve bought a new bikini”), and her grief takes the form of promiscuity. Winding up in a brief fling with a twentysomething wannabe novelist, she imagines she will make a great short story someday. Newcomer Ward hasn’t yet quite figured out how to blend the faceless prose of crime writing with the more literary impulse that she seems capable of. But the three women feel too much alike: Celia not quite sad enough, Franny remarkably composed as she realigns her life, and Karen, who will die either of HIV or a lethal injection—whichever comes first—is so normal it’s hard to imagine her shooting cashiers in the back and watching them die. Ward wants to write about lives changing but is stuck in a plot that must buckle when Celia finally, days before the execution, goes to see Karen and ask how her husband died. How could the peace they achieve not feel contrived?
A worthy first effort from a writer still developing.