The debut psychological thriller from Mark Allen

Life Term


A six-year-old boy is sexually abused, at random, on a riverbank, with devastating consequences. His dysfunctional family are no help. As an adult, working as a psychiatric nurse, he is unexpectedly confronted with – and takes – the opportunity for revenge. Despite then forging a successful career in journalism and publishing, and despite his justifications of the act of revenge, the guilt and shame stay with him, corroding his relationships, and eventually erupting (in a moment of delusion) in a mindless act of violence which brings his life crashing down around him. The public disclosure of his past leads to prison, but also to a kind of resolution as he writes the story of his life.

Read a free excerpt


I’m sitting here in my cell watching an army of ants shuffling along the floor, pursuing their seemingly meaningless existence with determination. A shaft of sunlight slides across the room illuminating the edges of my bed, as my life becomes a spinning wheel of memories.

Memories. Words cascade from my pen in nervous, sudden jolts. Words are safe because they can be changed, but the mind plays tricks. It wanders down lanes which have been partially blocked for years and then there is always the temptation to change the outcome to one that is less painful, more forgiving.

I have been in prison for five years now, serving a seven-year sentence for manslaughter. So, it is five down and two to go. Life is bearable here at Ford Open Prison, to which I was transferred from Wormwood Scrubs two weeks ago to serve out the rest of my sentence. I share my cell with Roddy Elmwood, who is not unpleasant. He was convicted of defrauding the investment bank for which he worked of ten million pounds. His trial lasted for nine months and hit the headlines.

From what he has told me, he operated a very clever Ponzitype scheme, which only started to unravel after he was unable to repay investors who urgently needed their money. Roddy lost his appeal and still convinces himself that he is innocent: unlike me, he is in complete denial.

Roddy is not unpleasant, but he has annoying habits. He snores during the night and he is edgy and sometimes bumptious, always trying to justify himself. We are friendly up to a point. His one redeeming feature is that he says he is interested in literature and poetry, but as he spends his time endlessly reading the latest edition of Investors Chronicle and doing Sudoku puzzles, we have not had much of a chance to discuss that. Perhaps I will grow to like him more over time.

I do envy him his seemingly endless stream of visitors — there must be something in him that I fail to see. As for, me, I rarely see a soul. Nearly all my family and friends deserted me as a result of the crime I committed. Roddy’s wife is slim and elegant, and she has stood firmly by him. They have two children, both of them at some minor public school in, I think, the North. How I crave to see my own two children.

Life in Wormwood Scrubs was much tougher. I shared cells, at various times, with an assortment of cons, from drug dealers to armed robbers — a less “highbrow” population, if you like, than here on the South Downs. In the main, I managed to keep myself free of trouble by helping some of the cons to read and write, which gave me an “untouchable” reputation. The screws regarded me as something of a model prisoner, rarely causing them any concern, though violence was always likely to erupt at any moment and it was impossible to escape entirely.

For a while, a few months before I left the Scrubs, my cellmate was Frank, a violent career criminal and alcoholic. He could not read and I spent hours teaching him rudimentary words. Frank was regarded as the leader on my wing and we became sort of “friends”. His word went and he always ensured that I was protected from other inmates.