DEATHWORK by James McLendon


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To welcome back the death penalty, this documentary novel graphically takes four ""sickening examples of gutless human garbage"" (or so the masked Death Switch operator sees them) to the electric chair in a multiple execution at Florida State Prison. Since every detail of the final-hours procedure is featured--the electrician's preliminaries, the last meals, the shaving and strapping and screaming--there's not much room for novelizing, and McLendon contents himself with character sketches of the convicts, the prison officials (especially good-ol'-boy, bloodthirsty Major John McPeters), and the members of the press who come to interview, witness, report, and argue the moral questions. And since McPeters is not allowed, in this era of prisoners' rights, to use the traditional, zombie-izing ""Preparation,"" the executionees--a nymphomaniac who poisoned her children and bisexual husband, an anti-Castro terrorist bomber, a super-cool Haitian axmurderer, a five-time rapist--go to their messy deaths writhing, fighting, cursing, and sobbing. McLendon is an effectively dispassionate reporter, only occasionally souping up the intrinsic horror with yellow-purple journalism or emotive blather (the chair: ""Everything about it exuded evil""). Such excesses--or ironic touches, like the Executioner's subsequent suicide--are unnecessary; the ""facts,"" few of which seem overimagined, are gruesome enough to turn any stomach. . . or to turn any death-penalty opponent loose on the nearest deterrence advocate.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Lippincott