Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.

When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review by Midwest Book Review:


Chessman: And His Nine Lives on Death Row

Terrence W. Cooney

Publisher: Outskirts Press



On May 2, 1960, on its ninth attempt, the State of California finally executed Caryl Chessman. Terrence W. Cooney’s Chessman, told in the liberating form of a factually-informed novel, introduces the reader to all the players in a long odyssey that brought such infamy to the state and country. From Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown to the Chessman himself and to the landscape of a fast-changing California, Cooney anchors a chapter of the state’s history that for too long has meandered a-sea. Many of the facts of this hysteria-inducing ordeal were gleaned from archival histories, both oral and written. And while much of he dialogue is imagined, the times, attendees, and days of the meetings that hosted such conversations are not.

In 1956, the author was appointed by the California Supreme Court to serve as counsel representing a defendant who had pleaded guilty to two murders. It was, Cooney knew from the start, a death penalty case. Cooney argued that the arbitrary imposition of the punishment violated the 1791 Eighth Amendment of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights against “Cruel and Unusual Punishment.” His argument was rejected. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted that position in 1972 when it so ruled that the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Four years later, still unable to shake the case, Cooney had become engrossed by the Caryl Chessman affair that had started to become headline news throughout California and beyond.

In 1960, Cooney produced the documentary: Justice and Caryl Chessman. The film was shown in more than 1,500 movie houses throughout the United States alone, and in countless theatres worldwide. During the filming of the documentary, Cooney met Chessman who was, at the time, the most famous resident of San Quentin’s death row. In the process, Cooney also met and conversed with Chessman’s attorneys, prosecutors, investigators and jailers. Calls for clemency came from all over: Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Robert Frost, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Governor Brown’s own son and future two-time California Governor Jerry Brown. So strong was the worldwide vitriol over Chessman’s impending doom, that his eighth stay of execution was issued by Governor Brown mainly out of fear of retaliation against President Dwight Eisenhower who was scheduled to be traveling in South America at the time. Governor Edmund Brown later conceded that the Chessman affair cost him any real chance at a successful bid for the presidency of the United States of America.

After Chessman’s execution, Cooney was able to meet former Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown and members of his staff. After fifty years, after decades of anger, hysteria and misinformation, Terrence W. Cooney, has made the boldest move yet by placing all of these facts into the center of a novel that attempts to get to the heart of the matter.


Death is final, and that makes many people uncomfortable with using it as a punishment in a flawed criminal justice system. “Chessman: And His Nine Lives on Death Row” spins a narrative drama of creative nonfiction from Terrence W. Cooney as he tells the story of Caryl Chessman, who faced a death sentence and had execution stayed eight times before the sentence was carried out, due to Cooney’s efforts. Arguing that the death penalty qualifies as cruel and unusual, he presents the long legal battle using the format of a novel to tell the tale. Intriguing argument about the status of life and death as punishment, “Chessman” is well worth considering for those seeking a different form of legal debate. [ reviewed by Mary Cowper ]

Here’s what some other reviewers are saying:

I’ve always been fascinated with the Chessman case, and this book gives an in-depth look at the behind-the-scenes workings of our justice system. While not promoting Chessman’s guilt nor innocence, the author instead looks into the curious reasons Chessman was prosecuted, and how he survived 12 years on Death Row, escaping the gas chamber 8 times. Revenge, religion, philosophy, and even ego all played roles in the very compelling saga of Caryl Chessman. I recommend this book to anyone who is not only interested in the case, but also to those who want to know more about the justice system, how the courts work, and to those who are concerned with the pros and cons of the death penalty.

Amazon Reviewer Mickey J. Allen

CHESSMAN, by Terrence Cooney, does justice to its compelling subject. The author deftly recounts events and juggles the many striking historical characters in this well-researched and illuminating book that’s not only about a man, but a state and legal system as well.

Amazon Reviewer Longwalk

Thanks for reading!  Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space every Saturday!

Self Publishing Advisor


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