Many people seek out books as a form of escape – a chance to leave the world behind and live in another person’s thoughts for a time. In A Killer’s Grace, author Ronald Chapman introduces readers to a life they probably don’t understand, but the difficult, probing and personal questions raised throughout this book don’t leave readers much room to escape.
From the very first chapter, we are introduced to Kevin Pitcairn and Daniel Davidson, a journalist and a serial killer, the two key characters that drive this story forward. It all begins with a letter from Davidson, pleading from death row with Pitcairn, explaining that he suffers from a mental condition, a compulsion that cannot be controlled, and asking that something be done – if not for him, then for others in the system that may not be given the benefit of the doubt and will simply be executed, with the larger outcome being many other victims.
By the end of that first chapter, readers get the impression that this isn’t going to be a light read, but it is certainly an unforgettable one. Few authors have the maturity or confidence to write about heavy questions of morality in a real-world framework, yet this book boldly examines the nature of good and evil, personal responsibility, redemption, betrayal, and the ability to overcome one’s past.
Pitcairn is a good journalist, but doesn’t always think of himself as a good man. He also happens to be a killer who has never been caught, but the guilt of that nightmarish mistake haunts him every day, perhaps giving him extra motivation to lean into Davidson’s case and find the truth. Can a man who has raped and murdered maintain any shred of human decency? Does someone like that deserve to live – or even have their story told? Kevin wrestles with these questions, and his own suppressed secrets, as readers watch him delicately move through life, from A.A. meetings and swelling tension with his wife to long periods of self-reflection and introversion, coupled with brilliant narration from the author.
What begins with a simple letter grows into something all consuming, threatening everything that Pitcairn has fought to build in his world. Readers begin to see the truly destructive nature of guilt and the weight that it can leave on a man, particularly when his emotions are so often bottled up. The parallel between these two men – one imprisoned and the other trapped in a prison of his own making – is remarkably well crafted, and makes this novel stand out. It isn’t a psychological thriller or a mystery, but it has a similarly huge emotional impact with every passing chapter.
Chapman is a fearless writer, taking on extremely difficult subjects and drawing harsh conclusions, some of which seem too intimately written not to come from a personal well of inspiration. The dialogue is crisp and sincere, resembling the way friends, colleagues and lovers speak, and the character building is excellent – slow and subtle, but relentless – causing readers to deeply invest in the minds and hearts of the people in the novel.
Chapman’s supreme powers of description, both of human nature and the natural world, elevate A Killer’s Grace to a unique level – a place where storytelling, aesthetics, and moral philosophy combine into a deeply affecting work of contemporary fiction.
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