Today I am going to review Stephen King’s novel ‘The Green Mile.’ I am sure many people reading this will have seen the wonderful film of this book starring Tom Hanks. He is the chief prison officer of E block which is where death row prisoners go to await their executions. Pretty grisly stuff! Paul Edgecombe (the officer in question) is the narrator of this story. He is writing the story many years after the main events have occurred. Indeed, he is now an old man living out the remainder of his days in a nursing home.
I have often wondered what goes through the minds of prisoners who have been handed down a death sentence. How do they prepare for such an awful end to their lives and what goes through their heads as they do so? As usual Stephen King proves himself to be a master in the way he draws his characters and makes the reader believe in them. You can sense the anxiety which is working around inside these men sitting on death row. There is no turning back for them. Not much chance of a last-minute reprieve. For, as Paul makes plain in his account, nobody on his watch had been able to escape from their destiny in this way. Occasionally, an inmate has had his death sentence commuted to a life sentence in prison but this only happened well before the execution was due to take place. If you were on the home run, so to speak, then there was no turning back for you.
The lives of all of the prisoner officers is changed forever when a convict comes into E Block who turns out to be not your normal death row inmate. His name is John Coffey. As he says his name is “Coffey: like the drink but not spelt that way.” He is a huge black man convicted of the rape and murder of two young girls. It will turn out, however, as the story plays itself out that all is not as it seems. He is a man with special powers and ones most certainly not of a violent order. He exhibits these powers on several occasions, each one more dramatic than the last. Indeed, these take the form of modern-day miracles. It is little wonder that the prison officers who witness these events are changed forever by them.
Throughout the novel Stephen King shows it is not only the inmates who are left scarred at having to exist in such a dark and disagreeable environment. The prison officers also experience moments which make them question what goes on inside E Block. One prison officer in particular has no business to be there. This is by Paul’s own estimation. He looks upon him as a nasty, blood-thirsty individual who does not follow the rules set down by his superiors. More than once does Paul have to lay down the law to him which he does in a variety of ways but there is never the sense that the message is getting across. He is a source of great frustration and anger to the rest of the E Block crew. He is a danger to himself and everyone around him. As events will ultimately prove, Paul’s concerns over him are more than justified. When a execution goes horribly wrong it is the unruly prison officer who brings disrepute and horror to the normally well-oiled machine which conducts the executions.
The executions and everything which leads up to them are described in graphic details which only adds to the gruesome nature of events. This includes rehearsing every moment of the executions up to an including the moment where the prisoner is fastened into the electric chair (which the prison staff name Old Sparky). The prisoner’s place in these rehearsals is taken by a prison officer as the team works to ensure nothing is taken to chance leading up to the execution. Of course if one cog in this wheel goes off on his own tangent then there are big problems and this is what ultimately transpires in the instance I have mentioned.
When it comes to John Coffey’s execution, a sombre atmosphere settles itself on E Block. The prison officers (the unruly one excluded) have come to warm to John in a way they have never done with a prisoner before. They have marvelled at his healing powers which have helped to cure ills. Then it transpires that certain information has come to light which paints a very different picture as to what went on in the case of the two girls Coffey was supposed to have raped and murdered. But it is too late to do anything about it. John must face up to Old Sparky like so many others before him. There is no turning back now.
This book brings up a question about executions of murderers which has always troubled me. I’ve come across more than one account of inmates who have received the death penalty and been executed and then evidence has later come to light which has proved they were innocent. So, in these disturbing cases innocent men and women have had their lives snuffed out when they didn’t commit the crimes they were charged with. This is unsettling to say the least. This novel gives an indication as to how helpless prison officers would feel if they realised a prisoner was going to be killed when in reality he was not guilty of committing the awful deed which had placed him in the electric chair.
Another cracking read from the pen of Stephen King, then, and one which comes highly recommended. This book is unusual for me in that I watched the film first and then read the book. Usually it is the other way around. I’ve always held the opinion that novels are better than films. When reading a book one has the ability to use his or her imagination when picturing the scenes which the storyline dredges up. This is, of course, lacking when watching the movie. But the film of this book is excellent. However, there is nothing like reading a Stephen King novel and being carried away by the mixture of horror and humour he always brings to his books. There is always an air of suspense about his storylines which grip the reader from first page to last. This novel is no exception to that rule.