Arpin-Ricci, Jamie. The Last Verdict. Self-Published. 2016.
I get solicitations for reviews and endorsements all the time. Most, I have to ignore. If I responded to everybody, I wouldn’t get any of my writing done. So when Jamie Arpin-Ricci messaged me about his book The Last Verdict, I was skeptical at best. After multiple exchanges, I sent Arpin-Ricci my address. In my mind, I guess I was thinking that I could read a few paragraphs and toss it out. When the book arrived, I avoided it. Yesterday, I sat down to read ready to quickly get back up. Hell, I didn’t even know the damn thing was a novel until the first page. Shockingly, I read every word in one sitting. Few books have ever moved me the way that this one did.
I don’t have to wait for what else comes out. This is the most creative book of the year on the death penalty.
“What does one wear to an execution?” (1) The haunting first question stalked me on every remaining page. This is the story of two women struggling with what to put on both literally and metaphorically in the light of the horrors of the death penalty. Alice Goodman loses her daughter Maddy to a terrible murder. For eighteen years, Goodman fights to have Mark Williams executed for the crime. Ultimately, Goodman is successful. Goodman’s barrage of emotions hit you from every angle. Most stories would end there. Boldly, Arpin-Ricci pushes ahead. Lori Williams is the “Monster’s Mother” (33). Williams loses her son Mark to a terrible tragedy. For eighteen years, Williams struggles with slowly losing her son. In the end, Williams is in the chamber when her son is executed. Williams’ barrage of emotions hit you from every angle. In the midst of the pain of it all, the interweaving narratives of Goodman and Williams grabbed me and pulled at me in ways I never anticipated.
While I certainly don’t want to give away any twists of plot, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the magic of the final pages of The Last Verdict. With every sentence, Arpin-Ricci becomes a grander and grander magician. The narrative changed and transformed me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Through it all, I was brought face to face with the eternal power of love and grace in the land of the living. I read the final few lines with gusto. “And then, I reach out and take her hand in mine just for a moment. And that gulf between us closes-not completely, but enough” (55). I was so deeply touched that I threw the book up in the air in jubilation. The Last Verdict is now one of my go to titles when people ask me to recommend a book about the death penalty.
Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood