For 31 years Rabbi Samuel Rabinowitz has known Jameer Pace was innocent of murder and he has the bloody t-shirt to prove it. With his bully of a brother now dead, he finally hopes to tell the inmate in person before setting him free. But in 2053, Florida’s death row is Stark Station in the asteroid belt, where the condemned inmates are forced on deadly missions to mine radioactive rocks.
The radiation weakening him by the day, Pace doesn’t have much time left. Rabinowitz quickly realizes that achieving redemption would come at a terrible cost. Setting Pace free would have harsh repercussions for the rabbi, especially from the station’s vindictive warden. Yet, he can live no longer with the horrible secret. Upping the stakes, Rabinowitz tells a journalist that Pace is innocent and shines the spotlight on the abusive practices in Stark Station.
Recently I was asked by author Brian Bandell to review his latest book The Rabbi and the Condemned. I previously reviewed his novel Silence the Living back in 2018 and had a really great interview with Brian then too. So when I received the request, I happily obliged! I was interested in the concept of the novel and also very impressed that in four years Brian already had another book under his belt!
So without further ado, let’s get to the review!
Plot & Narration
I don’t want to give too much away here, as The Rabbi and the Condemned was only published recently on October 24 by Silver Leaf Books, and you can read the official blurb at the top of this post, but what I will say is that this novel could be a movie. And in case you’re confused by that, it’s definitely a compliment! (More on that later in the review.)
The novel follows Rabbi Samuel Rabinowitz to Stark Station way out in the asteroid belt where death row inmates are sentenced to hard labour mining radioactive rocks. The heavy radiation eventually kills them, but the idea is that this is okay (from the government’s perspective) since these inmates are on death row anyway. The rabbi is seeking to free inmate Jameer Pace, a man wrongfully convicted of murder three decades ago, by showing definitive proof of his innocence.
He also wants to ask forgiveness for not coming forward with this proof sooner.
As the novel progresses, we learn more and more about the rabbi, Jameer, and the abusive nature of Stark Station.
I won’t go into the narration too much either, since, again, I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say it adds another interesting layer to the story.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Aside from the interesting story setting with the novel taking place mostly on a prison in outer space, I also enjoyed the level of world building and detail that came along with that setting. When I said earlier that this novel could be a movie, that’s what I meant. I could really see many of the scenes playing out on the movie reel of my mind. It’s a premise that would work really well on film because it’s so visual and visceral. Bandell describes not just how the prison station looks but also how it smells, its atmosphere and ambiance, and how it makes the rabbi feel just being there.
One small but important detail that I thought was really interesting about life on the station was the drug patch that all inmates have on their arms when they go on a mining mission. Since they are mining radioactive rocks, their health and energy wane rapidly and so they are fitted with these patches that can release any number of drugs into their systems to keep them going. Of course, this brings up all sorts of ethical questions about the treatment of inmates, but I thought it was an interesting, realistic detail to add from the story telling point of view:
“The pale-skinned woman’s name tag read ‘O’Connell’. Giving a thumbs up, she shifted up a dial that regulated the adrenaline levels in the two inmates’ blood through the patches locked to their arms. She selected Ritalin from a list of hundreds of drugs the patch could produce, sent the command to the electronic arm bracelet and the patch administered it directly to the blood stream. It was like a pharmacy the size of a quarter – except the patients had no idea what they were taking.”