A darkly compelling, one-of-a-kind prison thriller.


A female corrections officer's humanity is tested by unthinkable brutality at a hellish maximum-security prison after she begins probing its secret criminal underground.

Hollihan's astonishing debut is told from the perspective of Kali Williams, a 39-year-old guard who is at greater mortal risk patrolling the creepy corridors of the Midwestern Ditmarsh Penitentiary than she was during a three-month military stint in Iraq. Kali is plenty tough—she wants to join the SWAT-like Urgent Response Force—but her vulnerable streak is exposed by her protective relationship with a withdrawn young misfit who is in the "howler ward" for murdering his girlfriend. He has in his possession a comic book drawn by a fellow prisoner that supposedly contains clues to where a cache of drug money was hidden years ago. After the book's artist shows up dead in the prison's shuttered, dungeon-like basement, a "wind chime" hanging from a door, Kali discovers that corruption permeates the place: The people she trusts are as suspect as the "barely human" individuals whose incurable addictions landed them there. Teamed with an undercover federal investigator, she is soon leading a dangerous double life in attempting to peel back layers of myth and reality. As airless and shadowy as the prison, the book goes well beyond conventional prison dramas with its unnerving intensity, graphic violence, discussions of the meaning of evil and "the mystery of human compassion" and lack of heroics. As thoughtful as it is violent, the narrative gets under your skin early and keeps you hooked even when you want to look away. Hollihan's first-person depiction of Kali and her struggles in no-woman's land is flawless. The network of arch villains, dealmakers, goons and do-gooders is drawn in convincing detail.

A darkly compelling, one-of-a-kind prison thriller.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-59247-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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