Review by Booklist Review
In her evocative first novel, Denfeld, a boxer and author of the hard-hitting nonfiction book, All God's Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of America's Street Families (2007), seeks to revolutionize our perception of convicts. One of three nameless narrators, a man on death row, states that prison is a place of enchantment. He convincingly describes the mythic beauty of his dank dungeon before introducing the other two mysterious speakers, the jail's fallen priest and a woman hired to exonerate the condemned men. Referred to only as the lady, she serves as the plot's catalyst. She is enlisted to spare an inmate named York, who was doomed to misery long before he became a criminal. Denfeld's humanizing of the potential for horror that is within all of us and her insistence that the reader see the beauty in the darkest corners of life sizzles through her sharp prose, which both makes us flinch and invites us to imagine. Those familiar with the world of corrections will especially appreciate Denfeld's nuanced portrait of prison life.--Peckham, Amber Copyright 2014 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
The fiction debut from nonfiction author and journalist Denfeld (Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall) is a striking one-of-a-kind prison novel. The narrator, who is on death row and remains nameless until the book's end, explains that the prison, although a place where "the walls sigh with sadness," is enchanted: golden horses "run deep under the earth," miniature men with miniature hammers hide in the walls, and "flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks." The narrator's magical perspective-which is paradoxically necessary, perhaps, to preserve what remains of his sanity-contrasts heartbreakingly with the parallel tale of an investigator, also unnamed, who is tasked with finding details about the past of another death-row inmate, known as York, that will result in his sentence being commuted, even though York has decided he wants to die. The novel follows the investigator's exploration of the inmate's grim life, even as the narrator brings us inside the dank stone walls of the "dungeon" where he lives. Through the novel's rich, haunting prose, Denfeld, who herself has worked as an investigator in death penalty cases, shines a light on lives led with capital punishment on the schedule. This is a stunning first novel from an already accomplished writer that will leave the reader hoping for more fiction in the author's future. Agent: Richard S. Pine, Inkwell Management. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Filled with themes of pain and suffering and still a pleasure to read, this impressive debut from author/journalist Denfeld (All God's Children) is set in a decaying, dark, corrupt prison, but as the opening line reveals, it "is an enchanted place." The Lady, a death-row investigator (similar to mitigation specialist Denfeld) uses her unique perspective as a victim of terrible childhood abuse and conditions to research the lives of inmates. Working with her are a fallen priest, who is hiding secrets and hurt of his own, and the warden, whose wife is dying of cancer. Much of the story is told from the fantastical perspective of a reclusive prisoner on death row, preferring to remain unseen for his own protection and those around him. In many ways, this is a tale about being seen, understood, possibly forgiven, and maybe even loved. VERDICT While dark enough to appeal to fans of fantasy and horror (think Stephen King's The Green Mile), this is also a work of love and redemption. Read this magical book, and prepare to be spellbound. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13.]-Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The lost souls are on both sides of the bars in this death-row melodrama, the first novel from the author of works on societal issues (All God's Children, 2007, etc.). The prison is old. The row itself is below ground. The nameless narrator calls the place enchanted, for the inmates are under the spell of death. Executions in the lethal injection chamber are frequent. Mute since the age of 6, this narrator left a mental hospital at 18 and did something "too terrible to name" to a little boy. He found sanctuary in the prison library until, intolerably provoked, he beat another inmate to death and was transferred to solitary. There are too many gaps in the mute's story to make him compelling. We know much more about his neighbor York, convicted of crimes against girls, again unspecified. His beautiful, mentally challenged mother had slept with half their small town; her visitors took advantage of York, too. He was born with syphilis. This detail is uncovered by the lady, as the death penalty investigator is known. (The author has worked in this field.) Acting for the defense to commute York's sentence to life, she is up against a tight deadline and against York himself, who wants to die. Her sleuthing could have made a powerful novella, but there are too many distractions. We delve into the lady's background, a mirror image of York's. She's painfully alone but looking for a mate, and she finds one in another death-row visitor, the fallen priest, a loner burdened by guilt. But Denfeld's not done; she explores the prison culture, in which corruption is rampant and rape condoned. She is on much surer ground here than with her magic realist touches, such as the golden horses that live beneath the row and start running as an execution nears. Their role? "[B]eauty in the pain," says the priest. An over-the-top work with a number of preordained victims but no individuals.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.