Monday, July 12, 2010

Non-Fiction: Angel of Death Row by Andrea D. Lyon

No matter what your personal thoughts on the death penalty, Angel of Death Row (Kaplan) will give you something to think about. The book is not, after all, about the moral questions in play here. At least, not on the surface of things. It is the story of defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon, who has successfully defended the lives of 19 inmates sentenced to death.

Fans of true-crime non-fiction will recognize the tone of Lyon’s book: Angel of Death Row features the flat, straight-forward voice most often seen in that sort of story. Yet there is more here even than that. This is not a single case, closely examined. Rather it is the professional life of a woman whose work has had a profound impact on the lives of 19 individuals who would be dead now were it not for her intervention. She shares parts of their personal tales here, as well as how her own story came to connect with theirs.

“Criminal defense,” Lyon writes at one point, “like combat, forms an intense bond between people.” That describes Angel of Death Row quite perfectly: it touches one like a combat journal. And even knowing how it all turns out does not lessen the lessons we pick up getting to the end of the story. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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