Keith Miles is probably best recognised by readers under the pen name of Edward Marston. He writes several well-received historical mysteries spanning the 11th century through to the 19th century. His website is www.edwardmarston.com
This is a terrific novel, full of pain, terror, danger and mindless evil yet shot through with a lyricism that raises it high above most prison yarns.
A nameless man sits on death row in an American prison, escaping from his grim surroundings by means of a rich imagination. He listens to the stories of his fellow convicts, men denied the strange enchantment he feels in the place. York is determined to die even though the woman appointed as his death penalty investigator finds a possible way to save him from execution. Able to relate to the prisoners, she has demons of her own that make it impossible for her to have a normal sexual relationship with a man. By the same token, the fallen priest, who is in love with her, is unable to declare his feelings.
Since the author is herself a death penalty investigator, every line of the book rings true. We are spared nothing. We learn of the corrupt guard, Conroy, who feeds young pretty-boy victims to Risk, a huge convict, in return for money and information; there’s the man in the tower, forced to shoot a defenceless celebrity prisoner who steps into the yard for the first time; there are the new guards put on mortuary duty and having to cremate those who are executed; and there is the governor, a decent, hard-working man, watching his wife die of cancer.
The Enchanted dispels many of the myths about prisoners on death row. It’s a riveting study of the roots of crime, of the nature of identity, of reflex behaviour in appalling conditions, of a weird kinship and of the sheer power of words. Full marks.