The Penal Colony by Richard Herley follows Routledge, a quantity surveyor who has been wrongly imprisoned for rape and murder. He has been classified as a ‘Catagory Z’ prisoner, which means he has been transferred to one of Britain’s island prison colonies. Sert is a remote island on which the murderers, rapists and outcasts of Britain have been placed with nothing but a satellite to watch over them.
This story is both intellectually stimulating (are we inherently savages with a veneer of civilization or the other way around?) and a heart pounding thriller in one. The criminals form themselves into two groups – the ‘village’ and the ‘outsiders’. The village is made up of the strongest, most intelligent men who form a civilized community thriving on hard work and working together whilst the outsiders, ruled by two warring clans, despise and envy the villagers in equal measure. The book follows the battle of wits between the two as well as the lead character’s personal journey of self discovery.
However, my only complaint is that I can’t help but feel the ending is a little rushed and there is a bit of unfinished business. I would for instance, like to know what happened to the rest of the islanders.