An acclaimed professor, memoirist, and activist delivers a debut novel that’s a page-turner with a message.
Rafael Zhettah doesn’t want or need much out of life. He likes to cook at his restaurant, he likes to be alone, and not a single part of him expected to marry a billionaire and then be sent to death row for killing her, a murder he didn’t commit. Dow (Law/University of Houston Law Center and History/Rice University; Things I've Learned from Dying, 2014, etc.) is the author of two memoirs detailing his experiences with the Texas Innocence Network, devoted to helping death row inmates with their appeals. His criminal justice work is a clear influence on this novel, and his passion bleeds through on every page. The claustrophobic nature of prisons, the routine cruelty, the anonymous suffering, the decrepit conditions—they all come through in straightforward, well-written prose. “Men do not go crazy from being locked in a cage. They do not go crazy from the outside pushing in. They crack from the inside pushing out. When you take away hope, madness fills its place, and madness is loud.” Dow knows his stuff. Authenticity is this novel’s strongest element, but the message can sometimes drown out the drama. Narrated by Zhettah in a quick, direct style, the novel feels like two books in one. The first half is about Zhettah’s time on death row. The second features his intricate and intriguing plan for revenge—two judges, a missile silo, two planes, a parachute, some light computer hacking, and lots of MREs feature in his plotting. In this novel, justice is not just blind, it’s hamstrung, but the reader knows from the start that the scales will be balanced by the end.
A solidly suspenseful novel by an anti–death penalty activist that—despite some surprising detours—reads like a novel by an anti–death penalty activist.