First published back in March of 2014, US death penalty investigator and author, Rene Denfeld’s debut novel ‘The Enchanted’ followed on from the publication of three similarly themed non-fiction books.

DLS Synopsis:
It’s an enchanted place.  At least that was how he saw it.  Locked away in his six-by-nine cell, deep in the windowless dungeon that was the old prison’s death row; he waited for his time to arrive.  In cells either side of him were fellow death row prisoners.  On the one side was Striker – a vile and dangerous man whose name alone was enough to cause even the most hardened of criminals to cower.  On the other side was York – a man who had already spent twelve years on death row.  But his time was finally nigh.  That is, unless the Lady could save him.  But, unlike all those who had come before him, York was different.  York didn’t want to be saved.  York had accepted his fate.

The Lady wasn’t the only one who could be seen down in the lonely depths of the prison’s dungeon.  The Fallen Priest had his office at the end of the gloomy strip – his presence not always welcome, but nevertheless something that had come to be relied upon.  And when their time came, a man who would be there to listen and to offer them their final words of guidance.  A time when all but the very few would listen.  Finally listen to someone as they wept.

And here, in the bleak misery of all of these men’s final chapters, he waits out his own final days; listening, watching and reading.  The books he is able to get have formed a beautiful escape for him.  Something through which he can exit the gloom of the dungeon and be somewhere else.

Nevertheless, outside of his books there is much to witness in this enchanted place.  The Lady had been here visiting York with increasing frequency.  As a death penalty investigator, her job was to help those awaiting their time with the Chamber of the Vine.  A machine that delivered the lethal injection that had since replaced the electric chair.  But she only had three months left to save this man.  A man whose childhood and upbringing had ultimately shaped who he had become.  But the question was, how could she save a man who didn’t want to be saved?

But Striker was next in line to meet his maker.  Striker was the next to sit with the Fallen Priest and repent upon his lifetime of sins.  And after he is taken down the length of the cellblock, the sound of the golden horses running would be heard through the many corridors of the old prison.  As another body is taken off to the furnace, the sounds of the golden horses will shake the very walls of the prison.

For this is indeed an enchanted place…

DLS Review:
Rene Denfeld knows the subject for which she is dealing with well.  As a death penalty investigator herself, it’s clearly something that is close to her heart.  And the passion that she has for her cause and the work that has very probably consumed much of her life is evident throughout.  A true and unique glimpse of something very far removed from our own lives.  And in amongst the despairing bleakness of it all, Denfeld has somehow carved out a glimmer of hope where hope should be all but lost.

Having written just non-fiction prior to the novel, Denfeld’s masterful prose is a very welcome surprise.  Think Cormac McCarthy taken to an even bleaker place than the decaying remains of the end of the world.  Think of what it could actually be like to be permanently locked away in a small cell with no window, no fresh air, any only a flat cot and open toilet – and with the inevitable sentence of death hanging over you.  Living on slops worse than those handed out to the most desperate of the homeless.  Existing on borrowed time, with nothing but a spiralling abyss of self-loathing to accompany your every waking hour.  And then imagine a developing glimmer of hope.

Denfeld doesn’t have an agenda with her book.  There is no preaching or persuasive opinions being raised.  There is only a very human observation and passive response to what she has undoubtedly seen with her own eyes.  And through her writing Denfeld has lovingly painted a picture that is so far removed from what the vast majority of the world would recognise – that it feels like a painfully detached existence – which in essence it is.

Alongside the principal structure of the novel is a larger picture of life within a modern US penitentiary, which is interwoven with the memories and first-hand perspective of the silent prisoner that holds the glue of the tale together.  This multi-layered construction to the tale helps to create a much fuller picture of the hell that keeps these criminals and unwanted men locked away from the world outside.  Within the walls of the prison, corruption has bred until there is little sign of justice anymore – just a cesspool of violence and despair where the forgotten and hated stand head to head with each other.  Where the warder’s use and abuse at will to ensure that they get what they want.

Indeed, those that hold the power misuse it to gut-churning effect.  The novel tells of rape and brutality in such a stark and truthful light.  If you took Stephen King’s ‘Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption’ (1982) or ‘The Green Mile’ (1996) and led it down a similar path that was taken with Alan Clarke’s ‘Scum’ (1979) or Nicolai Lilin’s ‘Siberian Education’ (2010), and then let the corruption and utter despair simply fall off the cliff into freefall nothingness – then you’d be edging towards the harrowing feel of the magnified internal suffering that is exposed to the reader here.

But the real haunting beauty of the novel is within our (almost) nameless prisoner’s viewpoint of the prison, and most poignantly, his existence on death row.  This is a broken man who has found a way to exist without the enormity of the situation crushing him.  He has found a safe harbour of sorts within an incredibly confined and restricted viewpoint.  And it is his interpretation of what is going on around him, within his enchanted place, that makes the gloom of the oppressive backdrop somehow pale away.

Quite simply an incredible read.  As rewarding as it is thought-provoking.  And so incredibly human that it leaves you breathless with its heart-wrenching starkness.

The novel runs for a total of 264 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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