In this insightful, troubling debut, a convict struggles to stay alive in prison, to avoid going back after he gets out, and to rise above the label society has stamped on him.
Doc Kane is 16 years into a 20-year sentence for killing his abusive son-in-law with a shotgun. In scorpion-infested Tyburn prison, a place seemingly designed to bake its inmates in the Nevada desert sun, Doc has done what was necessary to survive, including dealing drugs and collecting debts for the D.C. Blacks, a gang he joined inside for protection. But now that his parole hearing is coming up, not keeping his nose clean means much worse than the customary time in the “hole”: he’d have to serve out his next four years. So Doc is trying to walk the straight and narrow. But he’s vulnerable to accusation when his gang brothers want to stage a revenge killing of another inmate, and it doesn’t help that one hostile prison guard is eager to nail Doc for any violation he can. Nor is the struggle finished when Doc gets released: everything about his old life tugs at him to break parole and return to drug-dealing and robbery. First-novelist Parsons leavens the grim story with jailbird humor, and he makes it easy to sympathize with Doc’s dilemma. He portrays his hero as a paradox: a sometimes vicious, sometimes compassionate man whose actions are governed by fealty to the street code, a set of rules that, though violent, are at the same time logical and fair. Doc’s adherence to the code even while those around him break it makes him a man of honor, but living by its often illegal dictates means he’s constantly in danger of going back to the slammer.
An excellent attempt to portray criminality with the kind of sympathy and understanding that Steinbeck brought to indigence.