For tonight’s blog post, I am reviewing Death Row, a novella by Christian Sterling. The book follows Charles Colter, an inmate at Greenwood Federal Penitentiary, during his final days at the prison. Charles is an artist, happiest when he is able to pour himself onto a canvas, and through his art and internal monologue, we see inside a man desperately trying to make peace with his life; the decisions he has made in the past which have led to this point, as well as the uncertainty of his future.
I hate reviews which include spoilers, so I will try to give my opinion on the novella without ruining it for anyone. I will say this though, there is a twist which I never saw coming and one which I found slightly disappointing at first, but perhaps that’s the sadist in me.
Anyway, to the review: Charles is a well developed, believable and most importantly likeable character. For much of the book, the reader is unaware of what he did to deserve his stint in prison, something which should be of importance, but instead you find yourself liking Charles too much to care about what he did to deserve punishment. I like the Charles we see now, introspective and regretful, so I’m not bothered about the Charles whose decisions led him to that prison cell. In a nut shell, Sterling is great at character development.
Despite most of the book lacking any ‘action’ per say (bar one sadistic shiv wielding prisoner), being very much grounded in reality in all of it’s brilliant boredom, the storyline is genuine and compelling enough to keep you reading. All of it takes place in a routine, a pattern from which Charles wishes he could escape, and his yearning for colour in a world of beige not only makes Charles a relatable character, but also means that simple and often overlooked details, become something beautiful and interesting. Sterling’s attention to detail is outstanding and allows the reader to paint a vivid image in their minds.
My only negative, which I have alluded to at the beginning, is perhaps the book’s message is a little too optimistic for me. I do however think that’s more to do with myself and my own cynical view of the world than an actual issue with what is, overall, an incredibly well written book. I definitely recommend this as a quick and interesting read.