Where Honesty Never Ends.
Genre: Literary Fiction / Psychological Fiction
Disclaimer: This book was provided to The Review Board in exchange for an honest review.
Blurb per Goodreads:
On November 23, 2000, one hundred inmates hold twelve guards hostage in the laundry dorm of The Indiana Penal Farm. The emergency squads are massed along the fence of the prison, awaiting the order to attack, while sharpshooters are perched like crows on top of the administration building. Tom Hemmings, a dorm counselor, has been conscripted to negotiate a truce with the hostage takers. But Tom feels betrayed by the prison’s privatization of services, which has sparked the standoff by forcing cut-rate commodities upon the inmates. The prison guards have also split apart over fights between rival unions. Tom fears he might have joined the wrong one. Can he still count on protection from the guards who joined the competition? And so he must put his trust in Chester Mahoney, a chatty pedophile who leads the insurrection, and Jamal Hassan, a towering Muslim inmate with an agenda of his own. As he enters the prison, Tom’s heart starts to hammer. He knows he is entering a shadowland from which he may never return.
Hello and welcome the The Review Board. Today we take an inside look at “The Siege” by James Hanna.
First let’s take a look at what Harmony Kent thought.
While this book is listed on Amazon as a psychological thriller, I would have to start right off the bat by making it clear that this is in no way a thriller. I have labelled it Literary Fiction because this is where it firmly sits. If you are looking for an action-packed thriller, or a bit of drama, then this book is not for you. However, if you are drawn towards a sedate book, full of meticulous description, and a pedestrian-paced plot, then go out and grab this novel. Had I purchased this book based on its cover, book blurb, and classification, I would have been sorely disappointed, and more than a little annoyed. What’s in the tin, ain’t what’s on the packaging. It reads more like literary prose than any kind of fictional, psychological thriller.
The first part of the book (a substantial portion: about 60 – 70% in fact) keeps jumping backwards and forwards in time, and any time there is a hint of the possibility of some action, the reader is then immediately presented with yet more reminiscences and ruminations. Far too many characters are introduced all at once, and with the timeline shifting as it does, you never get a feel for any one of them. Also, I find it incredibly hard to envision prison guards, and inmates no less, speaking in such a profound and esoteric manner. I felt like I was wading through thick treacle when having to make my way through such unrealistic verbiage, and found the book tough going as a result. Now, this is not to say that I don’t enjoy an intellectual read, because I do. But when it is sold as something else entirely, I don’t think that’s playing fair.
In some ways, I wonder if this wouldn’t have been better presented as a book of fact, and factually based, instead of fiction based on a true story. This is due to its presentation style more than anything else. This book is well written, on one level, and well presented to the degree that I kept losing track that I was, in fact, reading a fictional story. So, it has the technical merit, but for me lost out on the artistic and imaginative presentation. It just didn’t do it for me, and wasn’t my cup of tea. However, if you come to this read prepared for a near-factual account of, and meticulously written, piece of prison history, then you will undoubtedly get much more out of it.
The book isn’t broken down into chapters, but rather into time stamps. However, due to the constant back and forth jumping in and out of memories, the time stamps come to mean little when attempting to navigate as to just where you are.
In summary, I would say my overriding impression is that this book is suffering from an acute identity crisis, and doesn’t fit the box it has been put in. I found it hard work and tough going. It gets 5 out of 10 TRB stars from me, which equates to 2.5 stars on other rating scales, rounded up to a very soft 3. I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t. I’m sorry.
Thank you Harmony for your thoughts.
Now let’s take a look at what Frederick Crook had to say.
The Seige: A Psychological Thriller is the story about a revolt within an Indiana penal farm which results in the inmates taking prisoners themselves, including a handful of prison guards. The protagonist is Tom Hemmings, who is smarter than your average bear. Therefore, he is not just another prison guard, but a dorm counselor. He meets in negotiations several times with an appointed spokesman, an older southern preacher by the name of Chester Mahoney, who is imprisoned for sex crimes.
Hemmings is ordered to meet with Mahoney, a character of intelligence who speaks extremely eloquently. Hemmings tries to compete with the wordsmith and after a time their banter gets a little tiresome. The story is quite complicated by issues between prison gangs and even has the added element of problems between the two labor unions representing the guard force.
The whole story seems quite realistic, from the weak excuse for the initial riot to the convoluted circumstances of each character and the internal politics of the state employees. Additionally, there’s not one person that I adhered to, or even liked. Talk about real, this is no Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, nor does it possess the heart wrenching, tragic characters of The Green Mile, both by Stephen King.
That’s right, kids. It’s a very realistic story that, while as interesting as it is, never endeared me to a single character and I was happy when I was finished and not in the way I wanted to be. I can honestly say that I have never read anything that has had that effect on me. This reads more like an historical account than non-fiction.
There is a “love interest” for Hemmings, if she can be so called. Sarah Baumgardner, a guard released by the Muslim prisoners, seems overly willing to give herself to Hemmings, while maintaining a gruff and almost hostile attitude.
The most interesting character in the book is Henry Yoakum, a prison guard known for tracking down escapees, shooting them and planting firearms on the bodies rather than retaking them. He’s described as a Vietnam War veteran who is rather short, thin and as a result, is more likely to shoot first and never bother answering any freaking questions. Obviously, I came closer to actually liking him over any other character, but he was underutilized.
Hanna writes pretty well and I like his style with the exception of one rather perplexing compulsion of his that derails a lot of passages. There are countless occurrences of unnecessary colons, semicolons and dashes that ruin the flow of sentences. To me, they are more disruptive than the misuse of commas or even typos, which are like speed bumps. These separations are frequent and are more like toll booth stops where the gate is too damn slow to go up. Now, I may be only speaking for myself here. There are probably plenty of readers that would not even notice these issues. All I know is that I try to avoid the use of such things, where a comma or a new sentence would more than suffice.
So, overall, The Siege: A Psychological Thriller is well-written, though not-so-thrilling due to the mundane details included in the story. It gets a little bogged down in flashbacks and digressions to earn more than 8.5 out of 10 stars. I really wanted to like this book more, but it’s just not for me. I do think James Hanna is more than capable of becoming competition for authors like Erik Larson or John Berendt, the writers of historical memoirs and nonfiction, so I wouldn’t be dissuaded from reading something else of his.
Thank you Frederick.
Well, it looks like “The Siege” by James Hanna has tallied up a total of 6.75 TRB rounding up to 7 TRB Stars.
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