Notes on an Execution, Danya Kukafka – Book Review

Sometimes I request a book on a whim. With this book I haven’t seen much hype about it, I hadn’t been recommended it, but something about the synopsis drew me in. And sometimes, that book is an absolute winner, a hidden gem. That’s definitely the case here.

This book was a stunning drama, a powerful, unique piece of fiction which was incredibly emotional and compelling. It’s immediately made it into my favourite books of the year.

Ansel Packer is a serial killer on death row. This book tells his story, but not quite in his own words. Instead, Kukafka weaves the condemned man’s story through the eyes of some of the women in his life who met him and survived. His mother, his wife’s sister and the detective who eventually brought him down. They’re all incredibly strong but complex characters, who all offer a slightly different perspective on how a boy grew up to become a killer. They show that even a monster can have a story.

“No one is all bad. No one is all good. We live as equals in the murky grey in between.

This book is difficult to define. It’s about a serial killer, but I wouldn’t call it crime fiction. Despite having crime elements, it’s so much more than that. It’s a dark drama; compelling, devastating and touching. It doesn’t exactly muster sympathy for the killer, but it does bring to life his history and show how easily one change (or multiple) along the way could have lead to a very different ending.

It explores the impact of murder- not just the instant shock and drama – but how the long-term ramifications can spread over an extended period and touch people in ways you may not expect. It’s a slow-burn, character-driven drama about connections and separations. It looks at how everyone has dark and light, and how we can never really understand another person. It’s so many things wrapped up in one masterfully written book.

This book also makes its own statement by focusing on the women in the serial killer’s life. It doesn’t glamourise or focus on the killings themselves, but the people at the heart of it – the victims and those closest to them.

“The tragedy is that she is dead, but the tragedy is also that she belongs to him. The bad man, who did the bad thing.”

The author creates exciting voices to tell the story – with no first person narrative from Ansel himself – to challenge the way the world obsesses over the serial killer and not the victims.

“Ansel gets the glorified title of serial killer, a phrase that seems to inspire a bizarre, primitive lust. Books and documentaries and dark tunnels on the internal. Crowds of women, captivated...There are millions of men our there who want to hurt women – people seem to think that Ansel Packer is extraordinary, because he actually did.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Crime, Drama

One response to “Notes on an Execution, Danya Kukafka – Book Review

  1. I’ve seen this book recommended a couple times and I really want to read it

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