cover image The Prison Minyan

The Prison Minyan

Jonathan Stone. Lightning, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-78563-275-4

Thriller writer Stone (the Julian Palmer series) delivers a puckish Philip Rothesque satire of a Jewish community, specifically the members of the Otisville, N.Y., prison population. He imagines a diverse microcosm of miscreants at the low-security prison: there’s Phil Steinerman, serving nine years for fraudulent blood testing clinics; Marty Adler, who is doing nine years for matrimonial fraud; Rabbi Morton Meyerson, sent there for five years for embezzlement; and others, forming the eponymous minyan. Pithy character portraits are folded into the first half of the novel, blossoming later into amusing episodes. The writing workshop, “a staple of federal prison,” spawns several delightfully dizzy verses. The abrupt elimination of rugelach and blintzes leads nearly to a revolt and prompts the inmates to try to take over the food deliveries. On this level, the novel feels like a season’s worth of amiable sitcom episodes. But Stone offers more, thankfully, than low-hanging comic fruit. He skillfully digs into the challenges and trials of his inmates and their incarceration as they undergo soul-searching and examine their lives, all without abandoning his effective one-liners. As Adler gratefully observes about guards turning a blind eye, “Anti-Semitism finally workin’ for us.” The accounts of their schemes and scams, before and after their incarceration, keep the episodic romp afloat. (Jan.)