By James Hanna
Part of the excitement of discovering new authors is appreciating the fact that each of us lives such disparate lives. If I had to write my author bio on the back cover of my probably-never-will-be written book, it would be very boring. 52 year old woman, married to one man for almost 3 decades, homeschooled 2 sons, retired to West Virginia mountains = snooze fest. New indie author James Hanna has led a life which looks anything but boring: wandered Australia for 7 years, employed in the world of criminal justice, counselor in the Indiana Department of Corrections and probation officer in the San Francisco domestic abuse and stalking unit. Wow. My trips to Safeway would not lead to a novel worth reading. To me, understanding how Hanna lived his pre-author life is notable because he has penned a psychological thriller set in an Indiana correctional facility involving riotous prisoners holding guards hostage. Clearly Hanna followed the age old advice to write what you know.
Hanna creates a varied cast of characters including a charismatic pedophile, power hungry guards, rival gangs drawn together by shared ideology, employee unions exercising totalitarian control, and the central character, dorm counselor Tom Hemmings chosen by the prisoners to conduct negotiations during the siege. Hanna does an excellent job of providing the viewpoints of many in the story, never dwelling too long on one character. Use of flashbacks move the story forward and keep the reader guessing as to the true motives of the individuals.
The book is well written, with dialogue far above what I would have anticipated from a novel set in a prison. Hanna is a storyteller who demonstrates above average skill at painting a picture with words. For example:
The light in the kitchen was still burning, illuminating the crowded bookcase that supported the television set. He stooped, searching compulsively for something to read, but was uninspired by the contents of the shelves: detective digests, more Harlequin romances, and two narrow hardbacks whose titles – The Land Fish and Father Flanagan, Friend to Youth – convinced him to leave them unopened.
“The Siege” is a complicated, character driven tale of a world most of us will never experience. Hanna does such a stellar job of detailing this hostage situation, I actually googled to find out if this was based on a true story. While I could not relate to many of these personalities on a personal level, for the several days I lived inside that prison setting in my head, and appreciated how human nature battles itself and institutional politics, Hanna successfully sold the story.
US State Map Challenge – set in Indiana