Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Four Stages of Cruelty / by Keith Holihan

19-year-old Joshua Riff, an inmate at Ditmarsh Penitentiary in Minnesota, has been temporarily relocated to the infirmary where he's made a friend with another inmate, Jon Crowley. Crowley is currently writing a book, a comic book, on the history of Ditmarsh prison for which Josh is helping to illustrate. Monitoring the infirmary portion of the prison is Kali Williams, a corrections officer who's been with the prison longer than most of the prisoners. Something puzzles Kali Williams about the pair and even more so when Crowley suddenly disappears. No one has a clue where he might have gone to. But as Williams begins investigating, using the unfinished comic history and Josh's crazy story as a clue, she begins to find more than she ever could have bargained. For beneath the surface of things, indeed beneath the prison itself, is a long-abandoned isolation chamber called "the City" of which none but the oldest surviving prisoners, Crowley among them, are aware of.

This book is a lot of fun. Hollihan creates a story that, while not as original as some others, is certainly a page turner with his three central characters all well-fleshed out and the plot grounded in a suprisingly real context. There are lots of twists and turns leading to a great and very satisfactory ending and the themes of prisoners feeling more "free" than their jailers who seem more "jailed". It's a story and characters for which the reader will surely be able to identify with--haunted prisons (both metaphorically and metaphysically) a genre unto itself--and the writing keeps the pages turning in a satisfying manner. (FIC HOLLIHAN)

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