Book blog

1000 before 30 #43 The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

A female investigator works to save a notorious killer who has decided he wants to die, while an unnamed prisoner on death row finds beauty in the heart of the jail’s darkness and despair.

First of all, this has to be the worst jail of all time (save the gulag in an aforementioned post). Not only are there piss-poor food and living conditions, there are corrupt guards, gangs and plenty of rape. They even have a rape shed, for crying out loud. The jail’s priest is a man fallen from grace, and the warden is ludicrously clueless as the dead bodies pile up.

Within the walls of the worst part of the prison, we hear the musings of an unknown prisoner on death row, who hides when anyone goes past his cell and whose only pleasure is reading books borrowed from the prison library.

As he recounts the prison’s floods, earthquakes and disgusting slime as an enchanted world that only he sees, he watches a lady investigator visit a notorious murderer, York, who has announced his intention to give up and die. This action has ironically sparked activists to fund an investigator to help to gain him a pardon.

As she investigates York’s past, she discovers torrid details of abuse, neglect and sexual assault leading up to the years in which he committed crimes.

This triggers the memories of her own past, when she too was abused at the hands of her disabled mother’s boyfriends, and the ugly damage that she also feels inside.

Are killers made? That’s the question she tries to answer (and so does the book).

It’s an easy to read narrative that is entertaining throughout – if not on a very nice subject.

The lady- the prisoner- the priest- the warden- none of them are named. I guess the idea was that their names didn’t matter, or perhaps the author was toying with using the idea of protecting identities from prisoners – but I’ll be honest, it was lost on me. I didn’t see the point of all this mystery if there was no grand unveiling. Sure, one could accurately guess who the prisoner was at the end of the book (or straight away if you hazard an obvious guess) but the option of not naming any of the people seemed rather trifling and unnecessary.

Although all have forgotten who they were and what the world outside is like, a glimpse of the sky, the smell of rain, or the vision of some night birds is enough to set this prisoner’s imagination on fire. You never truly find out what crimes both prisoners have committed, it is hardly necessary to the story’s continuity.

Aside from the two main plots, there are secondary stories throughout – that of a blonde boy who was sacrificed as a toy boy by a corrupt guard in exchange for a tip-off, and that of the priest’s fall from grace. The former was an interesting story of redemption and a parallel on the story of the unnamed prisoner, while the latter was – to me – unnecessary guff.

The Enchanted was my first novel read in 2016, for a book club meeting in January.

I would have to rate it a 3/5 – a good read but without a lot of suspense or satisfying dramatic twists despite the build up.


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