Prisoner 489 by Joe R Lansdale

Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale © 2014 Dark Regions Press

Bernard is one of three prison trustees who live on an island a short sail from an island prison and whose job is to bury executed convicts. The dead are ferried over by a prison worker named Kettle. It’s a lousy job, but somebody has to do it, and it’s better than being locked up in a cell. Bernard and his trustee friend, Wilson, can be released after they do three years at the island graveyard, unless they choose to stay.

Kettle ferries over the 489th executed prisoner, who required an unprecedented four blasts of electricity to expire—maybe—and Bernard buries number 489. He won’t stay buried, though, because he’s an inhuman golem, and an unusually bloodthirsty golem at that! Lansdale’s novella (under 100 pages) is about whether Bernard and Wilson will become golem fodder or survive to their release.

Prisoner is a quick, good old fashioned horror story with a creepy setting, characters facing death who have something to live for, and a monster with an Achilles’ heel. Perfect entertainment for that lazy afternoon at the graveyard while you’re sipping hemlock.

Lansdale created a somewhat-fantasy world regarding the prison system, the only purpose of which seemed to account for Bernard and Wilson being isolated while they battled the golem. I think they could have been isolated by any number of means without inventing a whole new world, but that’s my only minor complaint. Lansdale’s novella more than deserves its life sentence on my bookshelf.

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