The Mercy Seat
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As another baking hot day dawns over Louisiana in 1943, a young black man wakes in a town jail to the final hours of his life: at midnight, eighteen-year-old Willie Jones will be executed by electric chair for raping a white girl - a crime some believe he did not commit.
In a tale taut with mounting tension, the day unfolds hour by hour from nine points of view: Willie himself, knowing what really happened and grappling with what it means to die; his father, desperately trying to reach home with a tombstone for his son before it's too late to see him one last time; the lawyer, haunted by being forced to seek the death penalty against his convictions, his wife, who believes Willie to be innocent, and their 12-year-old son, determined to get as close as possible to the action regardless of the dangers; the priest assigned to Willie in jail; the prisoner entrusted with driving the executioner and his travelling electric chair to the place of execution; and the mother whose only son is fighting in the Far East, bent on befriending her black neighbours.
In this exceptionally powerful novel, Elizabeth Winthrop explores matters of justice, racism and the death penalty in a fresh, subtle and profoundly affecting way. Her kaleidoscopic narrative allows us to inhabit the lives of her characters and see them for what they are - complex individuals, making fateful choices we might not condone, but can understand.
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