They Exist: Crime Novels with Excellent Writing

The Four Stages of Cruelty: A NovelThe Four Stages of Cruelty: A Novel by Keith Hollihan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was reluctant to read this book because I thought it was going to be a sad story without much action about a young convict that I was supposed to feel sorry for. Why did I think this? I dunno, the cover? Once I began, though, the plot just took right off and I barely gave a shit about the kid. Graphic and fast paced, this book would make a great movie.

Every so often, I hear someone on NPR rave about a “crime fiction” author. Lee Child and Carl Hiaasen come to mind. I go and read the authors and I’m utterly disappointed because the writing sucks even in the best of them and they aren’t very creative. I feel like I can hear the authors brain scraping an empty plastic bucket looking for fantastic plot devices.

This book, though, is the one I was searching for. It is well written (by a St. Paul author!) and delivers the grit and adventure of the crime genre without the baggage of that genre. I enjoyed the feeling of not knowing what would happen next. I enjoyed the author’s clever turns of phrase and I did care about the main character, a female corrections officer.
The prison had this magical realism quality to it. This made me not able to completely trust the world it was set in. For example, I couldn’t trust that the inmates wouldn’t wake up one morning with the ability to fly because so many unlikely privileges were delivered to them.

I heartily recommend it and my copy is already in the hands of one of my co-workers.



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