Folsom's 93, The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men by April Moore.
Before I get started, there are a couple of things you should know:
1. April is a close friend of mine, making the reality of reviewing this book without any bias, nearly impossible.
2. I don't read True Crime books. It is difficult enough for me to read fiction books with murder scenes because I don't like to imagine horrible events like that happening. So nonfiction books where everything I am reading is true, makes it even more challenging.
3. I was given a copy of the book by the publisher to review.
Enough with the disclaimers.
Folsom's 93 is a fascinating book chronicling the stories of the 93 men who were executed in Folsom Prison between 1895 and the final hanging at the prison in 1937. In addition, the story of how April became interested in this subject and ended up with the mugshots of the men and a forty page text typed on onionskin, detailing the chronology of Folsom Prison between 1858-1945, is amazing in itself.
The book is broken down chronologically into seven sections, each encompassing about a five year time span. A brief historical account of what was happening in California during that time period begins each section before moving into the stories of the prisoners. Each story includes a photo, a quote by the prisoner or someone associated with him, the date he was executed and the details surrounding his crime.
The stories themselves read like excerpts from crime novels. Like the one detailing a group of prisoners attacking the guards, taking some hostage and escaping. I couldn't put it down because I had to find out if and how they were going to get caught. I was intrigued (and a little horrified) by the story of Frank Belew who poisoned his siblings and then acted like the grieving brother. After reading some entries, it was clear the judicial system needed someone to punish for the crime, even if the evidence proved contrary. One story in particular I found compelling and has stuck with me, was the one of Jacob Oppenheimer. It made me seriously dig deep into my own beliefs about the treatment and the rights of prisoners.
Not one to read this type of book, I was surprised and how much I wanted to keep reading. I would tell myself, just one more story. Then I would finish that one and say the same thing again, just one more. There were a few times I had to skim over parts. They were well written, but had a little too much detail of the crime (see disclaimer #2 above). Also, at times it was a bit of a challenge for me to keep names straight. I ended up rereading a few parts, but it didn't stop me from wanting to continue.
If you are someone who enjoys history or are fascinated by human psychology or love crime thrillers, then you should read this book. I absolutely recommend it.
Bottom line, I give Folsom's 93, 4.5 out of 5 stars.
You can get your copy on Amazon.com.
April has book signings scheduled in California this month.
July 20, 2013: Folsom Prison Museum, 10-4
July 24, 2013: Time Tested Books, Sacramento, 7pm
July 25, 2013: Modern Times Bookstore, San Francisco, 7pm
For more information about April and her book, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Twitter.