There are some fascinating character studies of the staff and inmates and a graphic account of an execution by electric chair. Surprisingly enough, this is a feel-good story where the warders are, for the most part, decent, likeable and sensitive people and even the condemned inmates turn out to be “just human” (again, for the most part). Is this a rose-tinted view of the death penalty, it’s victims and executors? I don’t think so, but not having any direct experience (thank god!) I can’t say for sure. It is certainly a /different/ view and that makes for a good read and, if the reader finishes the story feeling a little warmer, then who can complain?
The story deals with the sort of themes that you would expect from King; spirituality, good and evil, redemption and a strong christian religious undercurrent, with a Christ-figure, supernatural healing and martyrdom. No supernatural /horror/ though, if that’s what you’re looking for. The horror comes solely from what one man, if so-minded, can do to another.
As I mentioned, there are several execution scenes; one botched electrocution is rather more gruesome than the others and King, as one would expect, pulls no punches here, so beware. But then you weren’t expecting pixies collecting magic powder in the enchanted forest, were you? As an interesting aside, according to Wikipedia, the word “electrocution” which we use now to describe any electric shock (accidental or otherwise) is actually a portmanteau of “electrical” and “execution” and was coined to describe the method of dispatch. Now you know.