Sharyn McCrumb once again provides a history lesson combined with modern day fictional life in The Ballad of Frankie Silver.
Frankie Silver is accused of murder in 1832. It is alleged that she murdered her husband, chopped him up and buried the portions of his body that weren’t burned in the fireplace. Frankie was only 18, uneducated and living in a one room log cabin with her husband, Charlie, and infant daughter Nancy. Could such a young and slightly build woman actually kill and chop up a full grown man? There had never been such a case. Who would believe it? The men of Burke County called for vengeance.
Sheriff Spencer Arrowood is recovering slowly from a gunshot wound to the thorax and the loss of pints of blood and his spleen. While recuperating at home, he receives a letter from the State of Tennessee requesting his attendance, as the sheriff of the home county, at the execution of Lafayette “Fate” Harkryder. Spencer was the arresting officer and lead investigator in the grisly murders of two University of North Carolina students hiking the Appalachian Trail. When Fate is found trying to sell the victim’s jewelry, Spencer arrests him, and the trial jury sentences him to death.
Now 20 years later, the state is finally going to carry out his sentence by sending him to the electric chair.
Capitol punishment is the thread that runs through this novel. Frankie and Fate, neither truly guilty of first degree murder, will pay the ultimate price for loyalty to family, while a secondary character, William Waightstill Avery, who freely admits his pre-mediated murder, is the only one who is freed. McCrumb gives us a picture of justice that points to a person’s gender, background and wealth to determine if a person should be put to death in the name of “justice”.
The portions of the novel dealing with 1800s court system may be a bit too detailed for the average reader, but the majority of the work is fast-paced and provides the reader with something to think about regarding the justice system and capital punishment.