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Summary

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in 12 hours.

He knows what he's done and now awaits the same fate he forced on those girls, years ago. Ansel doesn't want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. 

But this is not his story.

As the clock ticks down, three women uncover the history of a tragedy and the long shadow it casts. Lavender, Ansel's mother, is a 17-year-old girl pushed to desperation. Hazel, twin sister to his wife, is forced to watch helplessly as the relationship threatens to devour them all. And Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, is devoted to bringing bad men to justice but struggling to see her own life clearly.

This is the story of the women left behind.

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our cultural obsession with crime stories, and asking listeners to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the minds of violent men. 

©2022 Danya Kukafka (P)2022 Phoenix

What listeners say about Notes on an Execution

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent premise and narration

I first heard about this book on Twitter a few months ago and pre-ordered a copy based on what I was hearing, then I actually bought the Audiobook too. I found the premise intriguing, and I wasn’t disappointed at all – this is an excellent read.

It’s going to be really difficult to do this book the justice it deserves without giving too much away. The author weaves the complex layers of this psychological read, that veers into the literary sphere, with such expertise and detailed nuance – it is truly an indicator of a talented scribe and storyteller.

Narrated by the main character Ansel, the man on death row, and the women who have been a part of his life. The women who defined him, the women who called for his accountability, and the women who were his victims in one way or other. It’s a ticking clock, a timer, a revisiting of truths. His, their truths and the facts that meet both stories in the middle.

The boy, who like many others, is born into a world of violence and depravation, and subsequently abandoned or saved. It depends on the way you look at it. It’s easy to lay the blame for his future behaviour and crimes at the feet of an abusive parent and an absentee one. The truth is perhaps a little more complex, predictive behaviour and a genetic disposition in culmination with the worst start in life can result in a person who rightly ends up behind bars on death row.

The only aspect I wondered about was the connection between Lavender to Ansel at the end and whether it should have taken more of a centre stage, but then I thought about the intent, symbolism, emotional bond and power. More importantly, where all of those things should lie, because in her own way the author makes an argument for the both the hypocrisy and cruelty of the death sentence, whilst simultaneously proving why sometimes it is the only true solution. It may not be justice – there is no justice for certain crimes, but it is closure.

Kudos to Kukafka for the ending, the homage and the lost possibilities – very well said. It also gives and leaves the power with those who are deserving of it. This is certainly one of my top reads and listens of the year.

1 person found this helpful

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Amazing

I have discovered a new favourite writer. Will not be surprised to see a list of prize wins from this delicately considered work. Beautiful prose, characters, narrative. The 2 narrators do a great job here. I did not want it to end and will probably listen again to this original take on the story around a serial killer. There isn't a cluche in sight. Loved loved loved this!

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Beautifully written

Powerful story and beautifully read.
Highly recommend, couldn’t put it down.
So completely different from many of the books I have listened to. Enthralling.

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Riveting!

Beautiful prose, well-fleshed-out characters and great narration. I love this author and will be reading more of their work. Highly recommended!

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Thought provoking

This book promised much. It strived to turn the view of a serial killer inside out. However, It ended up being not such an overturning of the psychopathic myth as I expected. The construct of evil was stripped bare to the rather ordinary parts of the women affected by it, on a variety of levels. The book explored human existence; the generational ripples of individual choices; the fragile contruct of the human psyche; and finally the wasteful banality of both murder and execution. In these ways, what the story lacked for me in originality, it made up for in lingering reflection.

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Poignant and unexpected

Poignant and unexpected. Don’t let the title of this book put you off. As someone who does not believe in the death penalty, I thought twice about it but, the story is predominantly about the life and back story of the death row prisoner. It was one of the most compelling novels I’ve enjoyed this year. A definite 5 stars all round.

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Really stunning work

This book was my first time listening to a whole novel on audiobook and what a profoundly moving story! This novel turns the detective/serial killer/ death row genre into something very different with the focus being very much on the women involved in the story. Terrific writing and storytelling. Highly recommended!!!!

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  • RW
  • 07-04-22

Mediocre

I was looking forward to listening to this, but although ok, it wasn’t great.
Bit mediocre.
Great idea but just didn’t quite deliver for me.

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Simply, a masterpiece

Utterly compelling from the first paragraph, we look back at the life of a serial killer through the women who knew him, examining the what-ifs and the coulda-beens. This is not a serial-killer-thriller, but it is just as much of a page-turner (or whatever the Audible equivalent is). A really fresh and memorable listen.

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Incredible

The most Most unusual and moving story I have heard. I’ve never read anything like it. What an ending!