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Ballad of Frankie Silver Hardcover – May 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Sharyn McCrumb is one of the major wonders of the mystery world. Her books about forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson (including Highland Laddie Gone) are strong, meaty contemporary stories; her comic novels (Bimbos of the Death Sun, Zombies of the Gene Pool) are delightful satires. And then there's the jewel in her crown, the series known as the Ballad novels (including The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and The Rosewood Casket) where the third-generation Appalachian resident McCrumb sews together what she calls "colored scraps of legends, ballads and fragments of rural life and local tragedy" into books that are like Appalachian quilts. The Ballad of Frankie Silver is the fifth in the Ballad series, and it might well be the best. The blend between the old story and the new is perfect, as Sheriff Spencer Arrowood digs into the 1832 case of the first woman ever hanged for murder in North Carolina--18-year-old Frankie Silver, charged with dismembering her husband--while some disturbing new evidence is surfacing about another, much more recent capital crime. If you have friends who don't read mysteries but liked Cold Mountain, pointing them toward McCrumb might be the start of something big. --Dick Adler

From Kirkus Reviews

A summons to a long-delayed execution--Fate Harkryder, the condemned man he arrested 20 years ago, has reached the end of his appeals--sends Tennessee sheriff Spencer Arrowood back in time over 150 years to the case of Frankie Silver, the teenaged bride and mother who was hanged in North Carolina in 1832 for killing her husband with an ax, dismembering his body, and burning it in front of their baby daughter in their one-room cabin (an outrage that turned the locals against her more powerfully than the murder itself). Spencer has been haunted for years by Frankie's true-life case--a painful example, from arrest and trial to appeal and execution, of upper-class justice inflicted on a lower-class defendant--but even he wonders what possible connection this cause clbre can have to the even more sordid case of Harkryder, convicted of robbing, raping, and killing a pair of young lovers hiking the Appalachian Trail. As he delves more deeply into Frankie Silver's story--presented here through the eyes of court clerk Burgess GaitherSpencer comes ever closer to the last secret the doomed murderer took to her grave, while realizing that that knowledge may leave him as powerless to help Fate Harkryder as to mitigate the law for Frankie Silver herself. Though the weight of the evidence sifted makes this in some ways the most impressive of McCrumb's acclaimed Ballad series (The Rosewood Casket, 1996, etc.), the burden of numberless names, relations, pasts, and futures, which make the point about class justice a hundred times over, eventually sinks the modern-day narrative in conscientious local history. (Literary Guild selection; Mystery Guild main selection; author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525939695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525939696
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,063,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am an award-winning Southern writer. I am probably best known for my
Appalachian "Ballad" novels, set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains. These books include New York Times Best Sellers She Walks These Hills and The Rosewood Casket, which deal with the issue of the vanishing wilderness, and The Ballad of Frankie Silver, the story of the first woman hanged for murder in the state of North Carolina; The Songcatcher, a genealogy in music; and Ghost Riders, an account of the Civil War in the Appalachians.

My newest novel St. Dale, the Canterbury Tales set in NASCAR, was published by Kensington Books of New York in 2005, and is currently a nominee for the Library of Virginia Literary Award in Fiction and a finalist for its People's Choice Award.

Honors include: the 2003 Award for Literature given by the
East Tennessee Historical Society; AWA Outstanding Contribution to
Appalachian Literature Award; Chaffin Award for Achievement in Southern
Literature; Plattner Award for Short Story; and AWA's Best Appalachian

I was the first writer-in-residence at King College in Tennessee. In 2001 I
served as fiction writer-in-residence at the WICE Conference in Paris, and
in 2005 I was honored as the writer of the year at the annual literary
celebration at Emory and Henry College. (And I was the first Southern writer to take along a NASCAR driver to that literary seminar. Thank you, Ward Burton!)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 3, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Frankie Silver" was the first McCrumb book I read and, like so many other reviewers, I was hooked. While I believe that all of her ballad books deserve five-star ratings, I can see how some people, especially younger readers, might not like them. I will not write a "book report." Instead I will offer ideas about why her stories do not appeal to certain readers:
1) Her exquisite storytelling ability is historically accurate. If the times are set in the early 1830's, she is not going to write in a contemporary style. She captures the dialogue of the era based on written documents of the time. Therefore, her dialogue sounds stilted or dry at times.
2) Ms. McCrumb is a baby boomer. One complaint was that the stories were about people in an older generation. Well, to that I suggest our young reader return to Harry Potter and wait for puberty to pass. McCrumb is a middle-aged adult who writes for adults.

3)When history is viewed as dry and boring, (I fault public school education for teaching history as a dry and boring subject) McCrumb's ballad books will also seem dry and boring. When history is viewed as the true tale of humanity, there is much to learn from her books. Or, to quote George Santayana: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." We do not know where we are going if we do not know where we have been.
4) McCrumb's ballad series have overall themes, in other words, a big picture. For example, in the "Ballad of Frankie Silver" the theme is the inequality of justice for poor people. She even explains the theme in the Author Notes at the end of the book. If one has trouble with big pictures, or synthesizing information, he or she will be disappointed with McCrumb's ballad series.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By AllieKat on July 15, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Ballad of Frankie Silver is two stories, one true and one fiction, woven together through mystery and similarity. The one story is the story of Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and someone whom he arrested long ago who is due to be executed. While he is stuck at home recuperating from a bullet wound, he starts thinking about the trial of Frankie Silver and starts researching the case. He believes that there is some similarity between the Frankie Silver case and the case of the man about to be executed. The second story goes back in time to the true story of Frankie Silver. It's told mostly from the point of view of a clerk of the court at the time of the Silver trial. What I found the most interesting was the way that Sharyn McCrumb took a true story, added her own imagination in the role of the court clerk and wove it into a more modern setting. The legalities of both of the cases were interesting and seemed to be well researched. I thought the book was captivating.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dave on April 6, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
While I will admit that the Ballad of Frankie Silver is not on the level with her three stellar Appalachian-region novels, Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, She Walks These Hills, and the Rosewood Casket, I am at a loss with the numerous negative reviews this book has received.
Yes, the switching back and forth between three different time periods was problematic. Yes, the outcome was somewhat predictable, but lets not throw the proverbial bay out with the bathwater.
The characters in this book are three dimensional, the premise is gripping the the plot is suspensful.
I simply could not put the book down. And, in a way this book moves beyond the others in the ballad series in that this is an actual work of historic fiction. The principle charcters in the 19th century segement of the book were actually people. If you enjoyed the others books in the ballad series, you will enjoy this one. Indeed, I found the book a great way to spend a couple of evenings.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mona Gracen on March 8, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
While I enjoyed this book, I found myself bored through a great deal of the historical sections. This book was much more historical and less "mysterious" than Sharyn McCrumb's other ballad mysteries. Many of the below reviews seem to have been written by people who have never read the ballad mysteries, and so it would make sense that they would give this a bad review since they don't understand what they're supposed to be about. Our favorite psychic, Nora Bonesteel, doesn't play as large a part in this one as she does in some of the others (with the exception of Pretty Peggy-O). The best place to start in the ballad mysteries would be the middle three books of the five. And they are DEFINITELY worth the read - especially if you love ghosts, backwoods family history and spirituality and a touch of historical ballads. Read this one last if you must read it but don't expect the same type of book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Martha D. Bone ( on May 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Sharyn McCrumbe's new book is The Ballad of Frankie Silver, the story of the first woman to be hanged in North Carolina. McCrumb's ballad books are based on the early English ballad. They have a sad tone and often tell of an historic event--star crossed lovers are a staple. Frankie Silver was hung in 1832 for the murder and subsequent dismemberment of her young husband, whose body parts were buried in three different graves, each marked with a blank headstone.
Hanging Frankie is no easy job. She weighs less than 100 pounds, and the hangman has to practice to get it right. Modern readers will be horrified by the errors in the trial, the attitude of some of the lawyers, and the politicking which leaves Frankie as the sole defendant. Sound familiar? The carnival attitude at the public hanging is, of course, disgraceful. It reminds one of the behavior outside our prisons during executions.
The Ballad of Frankie Silver owes a bit--quite a bit--to Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time. Like Tey, McCrumb has a lawman, Spenser Arrowood, who has been injured on the job and spends his convalescence researching an old murder.
ButMcCrumb adds two other murders to the plot. When Arrowood was a young deputy sheriff, he arrested and helped convict Fate Harkryder for the brutal murder of a young man and the rape and murder of a young woman on the Appalachian trail. Now Harkryder, after twenty years on death row, is going to be executed. Arrowood is invited to the execution.
A third murder takes place in the present time. It is the double murder of a couple on the Appalachian trail. This murder is kept from Arrowood until late in the novel. I won't tell any more of the plot--I don't want to be attacked by crazed readers.
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