Full disclosure, I was provided a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review
The Siege follows the story of Tom Hemmings, a counselor at the Indiana Penal Farm. In November 2000, the laundry dorm is taken by a dozen inmates in response to the treatment at the facility. With the safety of 12 hostages at stake, Tom finds himself dealing with the group’s spokesperson, a fallen pedophile minister nicknamed “the Deacon”. If having to deal with the inmate population wasn’t tricky enough, Tom also finds navigating the entire prison system, with its warring unions, to be a bit of a trick. Tom finds it hard to tell the good guys from the bad as he treads lightly in an attempt to bring the Siege to a peaceful conclusion.
The first thing that struck me about the Siege was the method of storytelling used by Hanna. Told in a style both narrative and prosaic, The Siege is a book that gave my vocabulary a work out. In this day of more and more simplistic writing styles, it was oddly refreshing to pick up a book that made you think about what you were reading. While there were a few times that I felt that the descriptions were a little over the top, for the most part the writing style worked. As the story unfolded, it was clear that the inmates weren’t the biggest problem at the Farm. For the most part, and aside from a few flamboyant or outspoken characters, the inmates seemed to cope as only one could expect in a prison. When you throw in a couple of corrupt guards who have no problem bending the rules or planting evidence that’s when the situations can start to get tense. Couple that with substandard services supplied to the inmates to further degrade their dignity and then add rival gangs, religions and philosophies and you now you have a possible perfect storm to cause some major chaos. The novel spans a four-day period of time, however with the flashback pieces peppered in throughout the text, the reader can see that the four-day siege is the just culmination of several weeks of events.
While billed as a psychological thriller, I believe that this label falls short. The Siege for me was more of a methodical examining of the prison system through the eyes of the inmates and their captors. The psychological aspect was there with Tom’s dealings with Deacon and his willingness to readily do so even though he knew this person’s past. There was action in spots, although most of the novel was back story told in the form of flash backs leading up to Hemming’s part in ending the siege. The real take away here is the depiction of the prison system as a union run, for profit business more than a system where the incarcerated can find rehabilitation if desired to pay back a debt to society. As I read through The Siege, I couldn’t help but notice this aspect of the facility in every meeting with the staffers, the unions and the government. To an extent this was also present with the inmates. In the end, knowing Mr. Hanna’s background in the prison system it makes me wonder how much of this novel is fiction and how much is art imitating life.