When Stephen King first published The Green Mile in serial format back in 96, the story was my first large-scale exposure to death row in a fictional setting. Not just death row, but in particular the electric chair. Although I don’t know for sure, I’m betting there are reams of genre fiction encompassing this particular milieu: everything from stark legal thrillers in the mold of John Grisham, to frightening serial killer fodder, the tortuous playground of writers such as Thomas Harris and James Patterson. However it was King’s magical yet realist tale (for me, anyway) that finally pushed capital punishment screaming into a kind of cultural awareness. Upon finishing the book, I’m sure I’m not the only reader whose curiosity was suddenly piqued by the taboo of execution – not only the myriad methods involved, but also the untold stories of those behind the curtain: the men and women charged with dispensing unfeeling and clinical justice to the condemned.
Martin Livings has, no doubt, had similar thoughts.
Our tale is begun at the turn of last century, with Australia’s Fremantle prison struggling to pull itself out of a national convict past. A nameless narrator shares with us the humble beginnings of being a sanctioned serial killer: that of the hangman. An apprentice from a young age, he is given the responsibility of fashioning his own noose, a rite of passage, that will see him embrace his calling and ultimately being defined by it.
Life itself is a rope with a noose at each end, just like mine.
A short excursion, Martin manages to cram a lot of character study into a small space, and it’s personally how I like my paragraphs: weighty with exposition and lean on dialogue. In some ways Rope is partly reminiscent of The Green Mile, whereby story is ultimately foreshadowed by sin that leads to a different kind of redemption.
Martin Livings has been traversing Australia’s dark fiction scene for over two decades, providing dependable tales with a mature rendering of prose. Although brief, Rope still manages to deliver something that is unmistakably the author's.