A fascinating, nonpartisan view into the world of executioners, their methods, and the thoughts of their victims. Not since Michael Lesy's The Forbidden Zone (1987) has an author looked at execution so directly. Trombley, an Englishman, travels the American nether world with fresh and appreciative eyes. His first stop is with Fred Leuchter, inventor of the lethal-injection machine and the improved electric chair, and author of the authoritative modern text on hanging. Leuchter, whose motto is ""capital punishment, not capital torture,"" is driven to distraction by botched executions, such as incompetent electrocutions that cause intense pain and cook a man's flesh on his bones. Trombley then travels to Missouri to view a gas chamber, a machine that Leuchter considers messy, dangerous, and difficult to operate: Most gas chambers were built in the 20's and are full of crumbling seals and rotting gaskets. In Florida, Trombley looks at the state's homemade electric chair. In 1990, he reports, the Florida executioner had to use three jolts of electricity--while smoke and three-inch-high flames spewed out of the inmate's head--in order to kill his man. Finally, in Potosi, Missouri, in a prison that houses only men under death sentence or doing life plus 50 years, Trombley meets a warden and assistant who are proud of their work, consider the inmates fellow human beings, and are expert at the use of the lethal-injection machine. There, Trombley is allowed to talk to any inmate under death sentence, including one extremely intelligent man who, during his friend's execution, ""cried in frustration to think he had trudged through the rice paddies in Vietnam...only to return to the United States and be put to death like a dog at the veterinarians being 'put to sleep.'"" And evenhanded, well-written, and hard-hitting study that should be required reading for those on both sides of the death penalty debate.