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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