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18 April 2014

The Green Mile
Stephen King
Signet Books
Publication Date

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, condemned killers such as 'Billy the Kid' Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in 'Old Sparky'. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, prisoners or hard, none has ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far far different kind of being? There are more wonders in heaven and hell than anyone at Cold Mountain can imagine, and one of those wonders might just have stepped in amongst them. 

This story was first published by King as 6 separate paperbacks in a series, and than published together in one book for the first time in 1997. 

The story is entirely told in first person by Paul Edgecombe. Now in a nursing home and in his 80's, he tells his friend the story of his life when he was a prison guard at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, overseeing the prisoners on death row and awaiting 'Old Sparky' or 'Big Juicy' - the electric chair, and the events surrounding one if its most notorious residents on death row. Green Mile is named after the colour of the floor the death row inmates will walk on their final walk to the electric chair. Not a mile long, but surely must have felt that way. 

In 1932, a new prisoner gets admitted to death row. John Coffey, a very large black man, was found cradling 2 white girls in his huge arms, both of them murdered and raped. Coffey gets found guilty and comes to Cold Mountain. Slowly, Paul will start to realise that all is not as it seems with Coffey.He seems to have the ability to heal people…so what if he did try to 'repair' the girls instead of killing them? 

Where can you find a story mixing sadistic prison guards, crazy killers and a mouse as one of the main actors? As often with King, we do have the supernatural element with Coffey's ability, and again, often the supernatural elements are given by King to people who suffer from some kind of impairment / learning difficulty. And than there are the characters - in a prison setting such as this, King can really have fun here creating the actors : a brutal guard who just loves to stir up the prisoners who, in turn, are ranging from mild and innocent to completely crazy killer type. Another thing about King is how he can make us feel with the characters. So when Paul has a urinary infection, I felt his pain, gosh, I did (remember, this is the 1930's, so antibiotics were not readily available.)

I have to say that at times, I found the descriptions of the operation of the electric chair a bit too much and had to skip a few pages… I'm usually quite good at taking this kind of thing. 

The movie adaptation for this book is well known, and, in my opinion, one of the few King adaptations which is just as good as the movie. How can forget Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecombe and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey. If you have seen the movie first, it will be impossible not to image those two with the characters, but that's fine.

So what's with the mouse? If you haven't read this book, you ought to get it and you will soon find out.