Book Reviews: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton and American Sniper

NoaNoa is on death row in Pennsylvania for the murder of a girl her age. In a few months, she’ll be dead and she’s come to terms with it. She doesn’t even argue about being guilty or not guilty. Then the mother of the victim comes to visit her in prison and starts talking about applying for her clemency. They have five months to sort it out.

The story is written in first person but none of it is in chronological order. In between Noa’s accounts are letters written from the mother of the victim to her dead daughter, a strange but useful way to reveal information about the murder to the reader. By the last third of the book you know everyone is hiding something and it’s a quick race to the end to find out Noa’s fate and whether or not justice is truly served.

Unlike In the Woods, also a murder mystery told out of order, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton doesn’t weave so tightly that you have to pay attention to every single sentence. You can just read it and not spend time overthinking or trying to piece together the crime because the author is making you work for it. You know what’s up by the half way point, or at least you know the people in play are fishy. Yet, the ease of the narrative doesn’t take away from the thrill. You read fast because you care about Noa and you want to know if her X-day ever arrives.

Buy The Execution of Noa P. Singleton here.

AMERICAN-SNIPER-CoverPrior to starting Noa, I ended up reading American Sniper. Even though it’s a thick paperback, it was the quickest read ever because the writing was on a fifth grade level. The content is fully mature, but the writing was entirely like reading Dick and Jane. Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, when Chris Kyle got lengthy about describing the different sort of guns he used, my eyes glazed over and I skipped paragraphs. (I categorize guns by color, size, and weight. Is it black? Is it long and heavy? Short and gray?)

I’m glad I read it because it solidified that the book and the movie are separate entities. Sure, it’s the same Chris Kyle, the same wife, the same wars, but American Sniper The Movie is Hollywood script and therefore required a character arc, a plot, a climax, and a resolution. American Sniper The Book is Chris Kyle’s full account of his experiences growing up a cowboy, his experience in BUD/S, his definition of what it means to be a SEAL, and his overall intense passion for and focus on defending his fellow soldiers. You get the bigger picture, not just a glimpse of four tours and a career-long vendetta to kill an enemy sniper.

The movie was entertaining, provocative, and important, but the book is far more telling of who Chris Kyle really was. Upon finishing it, you knew Chris Kyle was anything but a coward.

Buy American Sniper here.

Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French

It’s important to note that In the Woods was Tana French’s first novel. Not only was it warmly received, but it spurred another four murder mysteries that also did well on the market. I’m encouraged by this, especially since the word count of In the Woods surpasses the average for first time novelists.

inthewoods_usOverall, the narrative is beautifully written. French’s ability to capture the emotion of the moment and convey it to the reader is on point and at length. Told in first person by Detective Rob Ryan, you feel as if you’ve sat down for an interview with him, a secret conversation where he tells you things he can’t tell other people. It’s intimate that way, but it’s also deeply disturbing.

Two crimes occur in Knocknaree, Ireland, one in 1984 (the disappearance of two children) and one in present time (the murder of a twelve-year-old girl). At first the crimes don’t seem related, aside from both occurring in the wood near town.

Yet there is a big connection and his name is Detective Ryan, but his memory is shifty and his nightmares are vivid, so it’s only a matter of time before his secrets implode.

There are only two negatives about this book. One, some of the narrative was too long. It’s important for us to be in Detective Ryan’s head, sorting through his memories and processing evidence, but sometimes his inner sermons were really long. Sometimes he conveyed important information pertinent to the crimes, but most of the time it was an emotional outpouring that eventually became unnecessary. We knew the guy was suffering. We didn’t need to continue beating that horse.

Second, I had a pretty good hunch who was involved in the murder early on. I’m not sure if that’s because the character was too archetypal or if I knew it on my own senses. Still, I read most of the second half waiting to see how the character was going to be revealed, which I supposed was a mystery inside the mystery.

Other than those two things, the book was thrill.

Next up: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Buy In the Woods here.