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The Prisoner by Carlos J. Cortes

1/01/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy The Prisoner in the USA - or Buy The Prisoner in the UK

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 397 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-59163-7.

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Having spent time working on various effluent treatment plants I know something about waste water, drains and even sewers. Not nearly as much as Carlos Cortez has discovered in his research for 'The Prisoner', though. About a third of the book is spent in the sewers beneath Washington DC where the author's first-hand experiences shine through in wonderfully varied and graphic descriptions of life beneath the streets.

The book opens with a gripping and harrowing description of the process inmates are put through as they are prepared for hibernation in The Cube - a supposedly inescapable prison. From this attention-grabbing start, the drama and tension are maintained throughout the book. The intricate steps involved in the breakout, the flight through the sewers and the political machinations behind it provide a constantly evolving and enthralling plot. Numerous characters in the security services and within the US government are introduced. Each is linked to the others and to the mysterious prisoner, Russo, in diverse political or personal ways. As the links are revealed, the tension rises. Relationships for some become clearer while the motivations of others remain shrouded in multiple layers.

There is implied brutality and corruption on a scale suitable for the most ambitious thriller but this remains an enjoyable book. There is nothing written simply to shock. The idealistic lawyers involved in the breakout, the characters who help them through various motivations and those who are attempting to track them down are all sympathetically and realistically portrayed. We're given glimpses into their personal lives and the workings of their mind so that they each stand out as different despite surface similarities. Two different government departments, for example, are headed by ambitious and ruthless women, each assisted by brilliant and ruthless heads of security. There's no confusing them, though. The interlinked plans and counter-plans unfold as each tries to bring the fugitives to justice and thwart the other's ambitions.

I enjoyed Carlos Cortes' first novel 'Perfect Circle' last year and with 'The Prisoner' he goes from strength to strength. Set fifty years into the future, the book is full of enough advanced technology and social change to make everything seem different while showing that nothing much has changed. As either Science Fiction or 'techno-thriller' this book works well. An unreserved recommendation from me.

Gareth D. Jones

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