By Heidi Simmons

With Love From the Inside
by Angela Pisel

I often wonder just how many innocent people are on death row?  I’m one who doesn’t have a lot of faith in the judicial system.  I want to, but it’s difficult.  It seems those who represent the “law” are not always interested in discovering the truth or protecting freedom.  Rather, they create an emotional and demonizing narrative and ignore evidence to fit their biases and agendas just to get a conviction.

In Angela Pisel’s debut novel, With Love From the Inside (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 312 pages) a mother facing her execution, struggles to reconnect with her estranged daughter.

The story unfolds as the chapters switch back and forth between Grace Bradshaw and her married daughter Sophie Logan.  Grace is on death row for killing her infant son William.  She was convicted of murder via Munchausen by proxy when Sophie was just 11 years old.

Sophie and her father visited her mother in prison up until her father died of a heart attack.  Sophie was 18 and just finishing high school.  Her father always believed in his wife’s innocence.  When Sophie went off to college, she left her life behind and never looked back.

Married to a respected plastic surgeon, Sophie’s life seems pretty good, but images and memories slide back now and then.  Her husband only knows that Sophie has no family and that both her parents are dead.

Grace’s legal appeals have run out and her execution date is set.  The new Governor is a hardliner who campaigned on promising to see those on death row executed for their crimes.  Afraid she will never hear from her daughter, Grace writes in a journal in hopes one day her daughter will not hate her, but instead forgive her.

Although Sophie’s life seems perfect, her husband may be having an affair and she may be pregnant.  And she’s about to turn 30.  So when her mother’s attorney finally finds her, Sophie reluctantly reaches out.

Confronted with her past, Sophie must now tell her husband the truth about her mother.  But what is the truth?  Did her mother kill her baby brother?  If she was truly mentally ill, why didn’t she kill Sophie?  And Sophie only has good memories of a loving mother.

Stumbling upon a possible explanation for her baby brother’s death, Sophie comes clean and tells her husband the truth about her past in hopes together may get her mother’s sentence overturned.

I somewhat liked how the story unfolds as the reader learns about the two main characters. That said, the prose are over-written, over-descriptive and pretentious.  There are too many things that don’t move this story forward and do not help the reader understand the turmoil these two women are going through.

I don’t care that she has a “Coach” bag or wears “Elizabeth Ardin” and sips some fluffy drink from Starbucks — unless it tells the reader something about Sophie’s state of mind.

Sophie’s dilemma and detachment held my attention.  She didn’t seem to mind that her husband was having an affair.  This intrigued me.  It didn’t just seem like denial, but that her aloofness and distance might be a direct result of her being abandoned as a child.

Same thing with Grace.  There is never any outrage or mental breakdowns as she waits to find out if the Governor will deliver a stay of execution.  She is strangely detached.  But maybe that is just how it is or proof of Munchausen.

I liked the relationship between Sophie and Max, a sick little boy whose mother has abandoned him.  This relationship helps motivate Sophie and reveals a woman with a heart.  Otherwise she seems like a shell of a person.  I wondered why her handsome, smart, rich, wonderful husband fell in love with Sophie.  What is special about her?  I can’t answer that, nor does the book.

Overall, there are some powerful moments of reconciliation that were moving.  And there are moments of genuine wisdom.  The author is a therapist and life coach.  We all have  parents and our lives are forever intertwined, so there is a time to make peace.  Hopefully, it can be done before they pass.  Perhaps “love from the inside” is all we have to share.

It is frightening to think how easy it is to make a case against someone and make it stick without regard for the truth or evidence.  How quickly people can turn against someone accused.  There is still so much we don’t know about the world.  At the very least, the law provides reasonable doubt.