“Violence always left a fingerprint.”

Saffy, page 222, Notes on an Execution

The Plot

Ansel Packer murdered three girls as a teenager and Saffy sought out proof for decades. Ansel is now on death row awaiting lethal injection.

The story is narrated through the eyes of the women surrounding Ansel: his wife Jenny, his mother Lavender, his niece Blue, the police officer Saffy. What I love about this novel is that it does not romanticize Ansel and gives voice to the women in his life devastated by his actions.

Saffy is determined to get answers for the three girls Ansel murdered as a teen. Saffy remembers Ansel from their days at boarding school together. She especially remembers the night that Ansel left a dismembered fox in her bed. Saffy fights for resolution as Ansel remains out of her grasp for most of the novel while we also flash forward to Ansel in prison awaiting his death. The back and forth of the timeline really works here.

“A searing portrait of the complicated women caught in the orbit of a serial killer. . . . Compassionate and thought-provoking.”

–Brit Bennett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half

The Verdict

There is no villain. Ansel Packer is a murderer, and no forgiveness is in his future. However, Ansel’s human qualities make us see that we all have good and bad inside of us. Ansel just decided to handle his bad in an unsavory way. Repentance does no good for Ansel and only death is the method of payment for Ansel’s sins.

However, Kukafka presents a social issue interpretation in this novel that we don’t talk about enough. We romanticize serial killers and they live forever because of their evil deeds while victims become forgotten. Kukafka makes a lot of social conceptual ideas come to life in the telling of Ansel’s story.

“Lavender knew, then, that the world was a forgiving place. That every horror she had lived or caused could be balanced with such gutting kindness. It would be a tragedy, she thought – inhumane – if we were defined only by the things we left behind.”

Lavender, page 270, Notes on an Execution

Is anyone ever just all good or all evil? Kukafka makes you question how you may have answered this question before reading this book versus after.

Bring The Right Expectations

Readers need to know that this is not a gory book and not your standard novel about a serial killer. This text exists on a deeper plain, making you question what we know about and how we react to serial killing. This is a literary novel about a serial killer and definitely not a thriller. I expected a faster pace going into the text, but quickly readjusted my expectations when I realized this is a thoughtful, sprawling literary text rather than a race-to-the-end one.

“Ansel was bad, and he would die for it – but Saffy knew, along with Blue, that he was other things, too.”

Saffy, page 279, Notes on an Execution

Bring suitable expectations and slowly devour each word in Note on an Execution and you will leave feeling emotional and full. For fans of more thoughtful literature, this book merges serial killing with philosophy and sociology.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Interested in reading Notes on an Execution? Check it out below:

About the Author

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms.

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