Praise for The Execution of Willie Francis

“The informed and reader-friendly discussion of the legal issues and maneuvers attending the Francis appeal, including the intriguing backstage drama at the nation's highest court, is reason enough to recommend this story, but King's masterful applications of Bayou State color set this book apart. Ably navigating the bewildering gradations of heritage and race that were so important in postwar Louisiana, he drenches these pages with the lore of the "cursed" Cajun town of St. Martinville, locus of the Thomas murder and terminus of the fictional "Evangeline," made famous in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem of the same name...… Injustice, inhumanity and death, all made strangely charming and unforgettable."

Kirkus (Starred Review)



"Gilbert King transforms abstract arguments over Louisiana's right to re-execute a condemned youth into a profound story of flesh and blood. His impassioned portrait of the unlikely bond between two young Catholics, Willie Francis and his undaunted lawyer, Bertrand DeBlanc, is more than a heartwarming affirmation of love and humanity. It's a vitally important story and if you want to better understand America's troubling legacy of capital punishment, read this book."
Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

"The Execution of Willie Francis is almost certainly the best book on capital punishment in America since Mailer's The Executioner's Song."

Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch

"Marvelous storytelling...reads like a terrific thriller."


"...impressive scholarship and the sure hand of a novelist."


"...reads like the best of true crime - a murder mystery, tense courtroom drama, and a harrowing race against the clock to stop Willie from going to the electric chair - a second time."

Karen Abbott, author of New York Times Best-seller, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul

"From the first page to the last, King holds our attention with gripping and disturbing details."

Library Journal (Starred Review and Editor's Pick)

"...wrenching, breathtaking true story of murder."

Tucson Citizen

"Drawing on extensive research and interviews, King offers a compelling page-turner that examines American racism and justice in the region featured in the book and movie Dead Man Walking."


"His haunting account of a black teenager who survived the electric chair is not only hard to put down - it is impossible to forget."

Dean Jobb, author of The Cajuns: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph

"This book on the trial and execution of a nearly illiterate black youth is as much a meditation on how far our sense of justice has come as it is a recounting of one of the most sensational executions in post-war America."

Elliot Jaspin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America






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