cover image The Four Stages of Cruelty

The Four Stages of Cruelty

Keith Hollihan, St. Martin's/Dunne, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-59247-9

Joshua Riff, a 19-year-old convict at Ditmarsh Penitentiary, puzzles Kali Williams, a 39-year-old corrections officer, in Hollihan's impressive first novel, a complex and atmospheric thriller. The other COs are protecting Josh by keeping him segregated in the infirmary next to an enigmatic inmate, Jon Crowley. Josh has been helping Crowley illustrate a densely symbolic comic book based on prison life called The Four Stages of Cruelty, which conjures up history from Ditmarsh's dark past. When Crowley disappears, Williams investigates on her own. The clues take her beneath the prison to the long-abandoned isolation chambers that older convicts refer to as "the City," and from there things really get interesting. Hollihan manages to combine a labyrinthine plot, full of intrigue, secret societies, and arcane lore, with a nuanced, character-driven narrative that provides insights into prison life while keeping readers guessing until the last page. (Dec.)