Caged Heatby Jedidiah_Ayres
Ransom Notes: Barnes & Noble Blog
Morgan is the central character of Sin Soracco's Low Bite (the most memorable ensemble cast I've read since last year's Late Rain by Lynn Kostoff). She works in the prison law library where she's incarcerated for breaking and entering. Her job is to help other cons explore their legal position, but mostly she brews dangerous jailhouse moonshine and finds other distracting ways to pass the time, including participating in a plot to embezzle funds from another inmate's murdered husband.
That's more or less the plot. But plot-schmlot. It's more a collection of anecdotes converging on repeating themes than a straight narrative, but it is such a great collection of low-rent, high-drama characters struggling to hold on to or create a small patch of dignity in an otherwise utterly oppressed and debased atmosphere that I'd have been happy to keep reading another hundred pages without a central story line. These are women pushed to the brink of human experience and rendered with such obvious affection (yet nothing is precious) - they're impossible not to get behind.
The dialogue alone drips with the effortless, affectationless authenticity of someone in the know, (Soracco does know of what she speaks), and it's a true pleasure to listen. In the interview with the former convict and inmate that is included in the re-issue of her novel, Soracco recalls conversations with editors and publishers and their questions about where the ideas for her characters came from, "These are bits and pieces of my friends. Even the villains."
They've got to be.
And, not that I don't enjoy a good exploitation flick or book, and not that my pulpy bases don't need covering often and generously, (in fact I'm chomping at the bit for Anthony Neil Smith's third Billy Laffitte book - yes, it's in the works), but I do need a good dose of the real thing now and then. And when was the last time I got a straight forward dose of women's prison?
Which is not to say it's humorless. Far from it. The humor and the horror go hand in hand here and the faster the reader and inmate understand that, the better their chance of survival and sanity. It's angry and fierce, but you'd better believe it's not humorless. The scams and angles played are as dumb, doomed, effective, brilliant and entertaining as any.
Combine the flavors of Jim Nisbet, Barry Gifford and Edward Bunker all you like, but Soracco's is a unique voice and one I'm going to listen for from here on out. Low Bite has also stoked my anticipation of Notes From the American Gulag from Prison Stories author Seth Ferranti.
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.