The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn Elaine Arwood

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The Ballad of Frankie Silver

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Sharyn McCrumb in THE BALLAD OF FRANKIE SILVER weaves an intricate tale of three murder cases. The first, the historical case of Frankie Silver, a waif-like eighteen year-old accused, convicted, and executed by hanging for the axe murder of her husband and subsequent dismantling of his body. The second is the two-decade-old murder of a pair of Appalachian Trail hikers and the third a present day copy of the second.

Twenty years ago Spencer Arrowood, a rookie police officer, was instrumental in obtaining the conviction of Fate Harkryder for two gruesome Appalachian Trail murders. Now older and more perceptive, he has doubts about Fate’s guilt but, with the execution scheduled in a few weeks, has little time to uncover new evidence. Recovering from a gunshot wound, Spencer mulls over Fate’s case, and because of an unexplained connection seen by his former, now deceased, police chief, Spencer researches the Frankie Silver case. The insight gained helps him understand Fate’s reticence in divulging the truth. Yet will Spencer be able to delay the execution or even overturn the conviction? And do the present day murders illuminate or obscure the truth of twenty years ago?

Sharyn McCrumb juxtaposes the narrative following Spencer’s investigations with that of Burgess Gaither, a clerk of the court in the Frankie Silver case, and with the first person narrative of Frankie (the first woman to be executed in North Carolina) as she awaits her sentence. She has crafted an engrossing story, but she also raises questions about the fairness of the judicial system. As a native, McCrumb writes knowingly of the Appalachian region, describing the folklore, the residents, and the landscape with care.