Author: Dusk Peterson
Publisher: Self-Published duskpeterson.com
Pages: Novella length
Characters: Merrick, Thomas
POV: 1st person
Setting: Mercy Prison
Genre: Historical Drama
Cover Rating: 3
In the unmerciful world of Mercy Prison, there is no rule but unending pain. For Merrick, the arrival of his new guard provides hope that he may break beyond the boundaries of his life prison. But appearances can be deceptive, and Merrick does not yet recognize the danger this guard poses to his future.
The novella “Life Prison” is the first story in the first volume of the Life Prison series. Friendship, erotic desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.
Mercy and Compassion—they are life prisons, asylums where the prisoners are dehumanized, where the guards rape and torture their charges at will, and where there are no wardens, only the Keepers of Mercy and Compassion. They are jails without boundaries, not without walls and cells, but without the moral constraints of human kindness. “And soon you will come to discover that a lack of boundaries can mean only one thing: pain, pain, and unending pain.”
The prison names are a perversion, an oxymoron of the very definition of the words, a place where the prisoners debate the most dreadful aspects of Mercy and Compassion. Mercy and Compassion are the places from which Death becomes the only means of escape. They are the places where Life itself imprisons far more cruelly than the bricks and mortar that surround their inhabitants.
Mercy and Compassion are places where the desire for self-murder is far exceeded by the capacity to accomplish the act. They are places in which the weapon of excessive torture is the directive that the prisons’ inhabitants will die by natural courses rather than by their own hands or at the hands of the guards who abuse them. The best way for a prisoner to cope is to disentangle himself from useless emotions. They are the places where Merrick, a man who has been sentenced to pass the remainder of his existence for the murder of his three year old niece, has trained himself to ignore the screams and cries of his fellow inmates, to scorn those who have found mercy and compassion in the arms of their fellow prisoners.
Merrick is a man who is both emotionally and physically impotent; he is a man who has, but once in his life, attained any degree of gratification, and it occurred at the moment his knife slipped into the skin of a little girl in the middle of a sun-drenched and flower strewn field. It is a chilling portrait of the loss of innocence and the beauty of the author’s ability to paint the images and moods of the scene with nothing more than words.
Thomas is a new guard to whom Merrick has been assigned. As the son of the Keeper of Compassion, the prison where the guards are particularly sadistic, Merrick fantasizes that he might be capable of manipulating the young man into setting him free—by death or by door, either will be an escape. Merrick’s reputation is one of cold, hostile inhumanity, and Thomas has been assigned to him as punishment for a transgression he’d committed. Merrick coolly and meticulously begins planning his manipulation of the naïve boy. Thomas, however, may very well be more than he appears: “It happens that way sometimes. You discover early on that you’re different from how people expect you to be.”
Thomas is the personification of Mercy and Compassion, a man who exemplifies that the capacity for kindness does not signify an inclination toward weakness. He is the unwitting pawn in Merrick’s machinations…or perhaps it is the pawn who will control the outcome of the dance between predator and prey. It is a dance that will surely change Merrick for the remainder of his days as surely as there is no doubt as to whom was in the lead from the start. The scenario provides a gorgeous bit of irony and leads to the poignant redemption of the seemingly irredeemable.
Written in the first person, Life Prison is a dark, eloquent, and absorbing psychological tale that delves into the mind of a killer who, perhaps incongruously, manages to evolve into a sympathetic character in spite of the horror of his crime.
The setting of this story is desolate, the atmosphere devoid of hope, yet the ending leaves the reader with the belief in the transformative power of, yes, mercy and compassion.
Reviewed By: Lisa