Dark Prints Press have begun a new line of eNovellas and if this offering from Martin Livings is anything to go by, it’s a line worth watching. Rope is the story of Freemantle Prison’s hangman and the rope he made as a fifteen year old rope-maker’s apprentice. After fashioning the new hanging rope for the prison, the young apprentice is engaged as the executioner and so begins an unnaturally long life, punctuated by 44 hangings. With every hanging, the rope grows a little darker, as if it’s becoming engorged with the souls of the damned.
The story begins and ends in 1984, narrated by the well-over-100-year-old executioner himself.
But who is more foolish, the fool who kills or the fool who kills a fool?
This short novella, more novelette really, is an excellent piece of historical storytelling. In truth, there’s not much story as such, in the traditional beginning/middle/end formula, with all the ups and downs of action-packed fiction. The strength of this story lies in the detailed and rich exploration of the character of the executioner himself.
He’s, at first, an incredibly unpleasant man. I had a lot of trouble sympathising with any aspect of his character early on in the piece. Livings explores well the nature of culture and time within a person’s make-up. He plumbs the depths of duty and ignorance. As the tale goes on and the protagonist begins to develop more self-awareness, along with a greater awareness of a maturing society, he becomes more likeable and we’re able to associate with him a lot more. I wondered if the executioner would be a despicable character throughout, but found myself much more attached to him as the story moved along.
I thought I had the end picked early on, then I got thrown a bit of curveball in the closing chapter, only to be proven right after all. Rope is a dark and compelling tale, excellently written, as we would expect from someone with the talent and experience of Martin Livings.
This is well worth a read and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out from the Dark Prints novella range.