First published back in September of 2014, Canadian author Duncan Ralston’s novelette ‘Dead Men Walking’ was an ebook only publication that offered up a grim vision of a warden’s role on Death Row.

DLS Synopsis:
It was his first day working in Alamosa County Prison on Death Row – what the inmates and wardens affectionately dubbed ‘Z Block’.  He was on his probationary period.  Time for him to learn the ropes.  And working on Death Row, there were plenty of strict rules to follow.  Plenty of information to take in.  Plenty to learn.  Luckily he had Palomino taking him over it all.  Telling him what to expect.  Telling him what he’s seen.  Telling him what it was really like on Z Block.

A number of years ago the prison gave up the electric chair for the lethal injection.  Whether this was the right decision or not, it’s what those who pulled the strings decided was the most humane thing to do.  So that’s what happened.  But in Palomino’s eyes no execution could be humane.  Not after what he saw José Vasquez go through.  For all his crimes, no one deserved to die like that.  No one should have to suffer at the chair like that.  To be killed and then come back in terrifying agony.

It was called Z Block because they were all dead there.  They were all dead men walking…


DLS Review:
I can’t help but think that Duncan Ralston’s short ‘Dead Men Walking’ reads like a darker, bleaker, and far more depressing version of Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’ (1996).  It’s not just the Death Row premise that draws such immediate comparisons, but also the characters, along with the style of writing Ralston’s purposefully adopted for the tale.  In fact, Ralston’s writing style for the short seems to almost mimic King’s, although with a far darker and grimmer vibe to it.

Interestingly, the story’s written entirely via the one-sided dialogue of thirty-six-year-old Death Row warden, Palomino, as he tells the new warden on Z Block all about the job and how his position became available.  It’s a strange style of delivery, having the entirety of the text being just one half of a conversation, with fleeting snippets of information about the new warden being revealed and very little else.  However, somehow it all works in the story’s favour – giving it a genuine and almost plausible feel.

However to say that the story is downbeat is a heck of an understatement.  It’s certainly grim in its brutal and believable honesty.  And within it Ralston paints the picture of a cold-hearted Death Row where those awaiting their execution are portrayed as still being human beings, rather than taking the easy option of making them out as just monsters.  Yes, these despicable individuals have all done horrendous things to land them where they are, but in Ralston’s tale, that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re still people.  And this aspect alone makes it that much harder to swallow.

Nevertheless, one thing that really sticks out from the tale is the sheer honesty that’s spoken through it.  Okay, so the story is told entirely through the voice of Palomino.  And perhaps because of this it seems to project a degree of truthfulness about life and the penal system.  Questions are raised through the murk of one man’s experience and reflective ponderings.  Ultimately it’s up to the reader to come to their own conclusions – if indeed there are any out there.

But one thing’s for sure – there’s a heck of a lot of cruel (but honest) brutality in store for you before you get to the other end and reflect back on what you’ve been privy to.

It’s just a story – but you can’t help but feel like you’ve just been whispered some honest-to-god truths from behind closed doors.

The novelette runs for approximately 26 pages (an ebook estimation).

© DLS Reviews

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