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HADRIAN'S WALLS by Robert Draper


by Robert Draper

Pub Date: May 17th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40369-8
Publisher: Knopf

In his cool, prosaically loping fiction debut, Texas journalist Draper easily entraps the reader in a Lone Star State prison town rancid with lies, corruptions, and cover-ups. Draper’s most vivid creation is Shepherdsville itself, with its economy, employment rolls, social life, and gossip all based on the business of punishment as conducted in a variety of institutions strung around the town like a golden yoke. Within these institutions, laws are routinely warped to satisfy prison director Sonny Hope, who as the story opens has pardoned Hadrian Coleman eight years after his escape from jail. While on the run, Hadrian has been cleared of the murder of a fellow inmate, but Sonny hasn’t pardoned his boyhood friend out of charity: he needs Hadrian to eliminate Ricky Tempesta, another former inmate, whose business ventures are squeezing Sonny’s turf. Some shady deals have gone down between Sonny and Ricky, Hadrian discovers, that threaten to end Sonny’s career, perhaps his life. The prison director has always trusted Hadrian, who killed a judge to save Sonny’s life and then took the fall without mentioning his friend’s involvement. Hadrian remains loyal; if he completes this last, dirty job for Sonny, he thinks, maybe he can finally be free to shape his own destiny. Of course, the complicities between Sonny and Tempesta run deeper and spring from motives more obscure than Hadrian knows. The author masterfully shows Shepherdsville’s strange logic of power and fear as it encompasses each new, slowly revealed fact and the people who come to know it. In the end, Hadrian’s soul is cleansed, his name is cleared, and he gets a good woman—a conclusion that seems jarringly sunny after the delicious varieties of malice we—ve seen festering. Still, getting there provides sooty, ragged, fearsome reading pleasure. A breezy encounter with human darkness, carried on by the lilt of Draper’s choice prose. (First printing of 60,000)