In the fall of 1999, psychologist Sophia Beckman is compelled by the court to give testimony on behalf of a death row inmate that results in his sentence being overturned. Haunted by secrets from her past, she avoids the media spotlight as much as possible, but soon, other prisoners’ families come seeking her assistance. One family in particular, the wife, children, and brother of Jarrett Capshaw, is especially insistent. Forty-one days ago Jarrett’s request to die was granted by the State of Texas, and he became a dead man walking, a man they call a volunteer.
Jarrett’s crimes were unusual, involving the theft of precious Mayan antiquities. Murder was never part of the plan, but murder is what happened. He pulled the trigger, and as little as he feels prepared for it, as much as he struggles with matters of the soul, he’s ready to die. It is the only way his family and the families of his victims will be free to move on. While Jarrett labors to find the words to say good-bye to those he has loved, Sophia finds herself drawn into a relationship with his wife and oldest son. It is Jarrett’s family she can’t resist and there will be a price to pay. But not even Sophia could have foreseen the outcome when the brutal truth is exposed, the unalloyed facts that, incredibly, will deliver Jarrett’s fate straight into her hands.
The Volunteer is a story about families, how they are made, and how in one single, horrifying instant, they can be broken. It is a story about mothers and the lies they tell to protect their children, to keep them from being hurt. But what happens when the truth comes out anyway and nothing and no one is spared? Sometimes the truth has the power to break your heart, and in Sophia’s case it will also endanger her freedom and threaten everything she has ever believed about her life.
From the reviewers:
“If you love Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve, read Barbara Taylor Sissel.” ~ Joni Rodgers, NYT bestselling author of Sugarland, Crazy For Trying, and memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair
“THE VOLUNTEER is a story of so many things that are not talked about … you can only learn about them by noticing the empty shape that people talk around. It’s exactly like negative space in art, when you depict the object by drawing the space around it.” ~ Darla Tagrin, Artist
It’s a heart wrencher. … on the face of it I shouldn’t like this book because, it left me in tears and needing to catch my breath. BUT this lady writes simply and well and has a tender and sensitive ability to touch down into the emotional heart of her characters. She writes about ambiguity, loss, pain, love, betrayal and regret, Yet she carries that within a compelling story line that has a sense of urgency and inevitability that delivers the reader eventually into a space of some redemption and recovery. – Lorraine Benham
Barbara Taylor Sissel’s “The Volunteer” is a book of whole truths touching on hefty subjects such as executions of Death Row inmates, murder, artifact smuggling, fidelity, keeping secrets, and manipulation, among others. She conceals these serious subjects in a story with true-to-life characters (some likeable and some not), and deft plotting to make darker subjects more palatable. This author uses words like a surgeon uses a scapel–every word precise and on the mark, yet she does not preach or pander. Sissel’s books are charged with jolts of reality cushioned by unconditional love. Every book is a gem. – Wanda Dionne
Barbara Taylor Sissel was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and grew up at various locations, mostly in the Midwest. She has always been a lover of stories, the ones her big sister told to her and her younger brother, and the wild tales she related herself that often left her mother perplexed. They were too crazy to be from true experience the way Barbara claimed and yet they were vivid enough that they weren’t quite lies either.
Reading and admiring Wuthering Heights was the book that got her thinking about becoming an author and it was a dream that stayed with her through marriage, life as the wife of a prison warden in Kentucky and the births of two sons. It wasn’t until the last child was off to school that she finally sat down to write and then what came was influenced by her experience living with her family on the grounds of a prison.
Justice is a central issue in her stories. Justice and forgiveness. How far is it to unforgivable? Is it ever too late? These are the themes that resonate. What happens when an ordinary family is impacted by a sudden, extraordinary calamity?
Along the way to publication, Barbara has placed twice in the William Faulkner/William Wisdom writing competition. She works with a group of successful, talented authors and in addition to writing fiction, she also works freelance as an editor and writer. Her articles and short stories have appeared in several venues. Currently Barbara lives and writes in The Woodlands, Texas.
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