A debut thriller tells the story of a killer imprisoned in a facility that may be more barbaric than the atrocities he’s committed.
Clemensville, Texas, native Samuel Bradbury’s murderous deeds have landed him at the Criminal Zoo in Colorado. The former Supermax, the brainchild of Colorado Gov. Jon McIntyre, calls its inmates “exhibits” because citizens can buy tickets to watch them like zoo animals. Or visitors can pay more and actively beat or torture an exhibit. Samuel’s the product of a troubled childhood, a mother who abandoned her family and a father who regularly abused him. His extended family’s likewise shunned him, blaming him for the death of cousin Jeremy, who, while in a barn with Samuel, fell off a haystack and landed on a pitchfork. The disturbed Samuel has a twisted interpretation of religion, namely his focus on a vengeful God. He initially sets out to kill someone in retribution, but the motive for a subsequent murder gets a little murky, though it’s clearly from an unhinged mind. When the law finally catches up to him, Samuel finds himself sentenced to death in the Confinement Center. He can choose instead the Zoo and, if he’s able to endure visitors’ maltreatment for a year, will reputedly spend a relatively painless life in a standard prison. But there’s another option that may offer absolution. The grim story isn’t easy to digest, an unwavering first-person perspective from Samuel. It’s teeming with brutality, whether it’s Samuel’s vivid description of a murder, or a visitor, usually an incensed stranger, donning a jumpsuit, booties, and gloves—for potential spatter. McDaniel’s middle-of-the-road approach, however, is certain to spark debate. For starters, it makes the death penalty seem more humane, while some readers will likely believe Samuel deserves his sadistic experiences at the Zoo. The author’s sure-handed writing, meanwhile, is an asset; Samuel’s occasional diatribes make surprising sense, like his confusion over the Bible attributing human emotions to God (for example, jealousy). A fitting end includes a twist or two but refrains from offering a simple solution to tie up the narrative: it’s largely open to interpretation, like the never-ending debate of capital punishment.
A penetrating look inside a killer’s head; disquieting but insightful.