Pages: 369/1388 kb
Order THE INNOCENT here
In May of the year 1997, my prison smelled only of low morale, treason and pity. And it tasted of sweat, concrete, and human decay. And my God, it was hot. But for me, Jack Marconi, the keeper...the warden...the superintendent in charge of all things living and dying inside the iron house? I did the only thing I could do under circumstances best left in God's hands.I blamed the weather.
This novel has quite a history. It was first published in 1999, by a Random House outfit called Delacorte Press, under the name of AS CATCH CAN. It got mishandled and brutalized in every possible way by its publisher, before finally being swept under the rug, leaving Vincent Zandri battered, bruised and forsaken by the industry. But the man persevered and pulled himself from the jaws of oblivion with the help of independent publisher StoneGate Ink. Since then, the name Zandri became synonymous with the eBook revolution, as he sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his books on the Kindle Store, and spearheading his efforts was THE INNOCENT, which is the original title Zandri intended to give to AS CATCH CAN. So, is all the hype behind Zandri the real deal or is it all wind? I had a hunch his character Jack Marconi and me would be good buddies, but THE INNOCENT went beyond my expectations. Believe the hype, ladies and gentlemen. Vincent Zandri packs a mean punch.
Jack Marconi is nicknamed "Keeper" by everyone he knows, because he happens to be the warden of Green Haven Penitentiary. One doesn't get into such a high position in the prison system without leaving parts of himself on his way up. Keeper is one of the few survivor of the Attica prison riots, which happened over twenty years ago and left him deeply scarred. When cop-killer Eduardo Vasquez escapes from his transport van after Keeper signed him a permission slip to go see the dentist. From the start, he suspects an inside job, but he finds very little collaboration from his co-survivor of the Attica uprising Wash Pelton, his immediate superior. In fact, Pelton seems more interested in finding a scapegoat rather than to find the truth. He thinks Keeper has went soft since his wife was murdered and deems that this is the perfect opportunity to push him aside. Keeper's job is on the line, but his inquisitive nature is such that soon, his life will also be.
The glue that binds THE INNOCENT together, what makes it stand out so much, are the Attica flashbacks. Three men were forever bound by blood during four long days where they were their prisoners' prisoners and witnesses the worst atrocities. Blood binds. Whether it's running in your veins or spilled on the concrete. Keeper, Wash Pelton and Mike Norman aren't related, but they are forever bound to each other by these memories. Vincent Zandri alternates the flashbacks along with the present times discussions in between his characters and they echo on one another. The flashback scenes makes the reader understand how bad of a taboo it is, in between the three men and yet, they keep gravitating towards each other in an unhealthy symbiosis. When Keeper gets in trouble, it's fascinating how Mike and Wash want to see him go down the drain like a bad memory.
"Though I travel through the valley of death," mumbles the priest between tearful gasps, "I shall fear no evil."
The rebel inmate carries a steel pipe in his hand like a war club. He chants woo-woo-woo and dances that Indian dance all around the crying, praying chaplain. The rest of the inmates break out in laughter.
"Fear this!" they scream. "Save yourself, Mister Righteous Man!" they shout.
Another element that singles out Vincent Zandri and puts him a step ahead of the competition, is his writing style. The man is a self-admitted Hemingway fan, but he churns out these long, Fitzgeraldesque paragraph-long sentences with so much gusto, it's easier to compare him to the latter. I'm not saying he's as good as the master, but he might really well be (or become) that dominant in his genre *. There are a few mechanical things that ticked me off, like Zandri's use of qualifiers. He always pairs them up and after a while, it gets a bit jarring. Everything is described with two qualifiers. Rarely one, rarely three, rarely four, almost always two qualifiers. I don't know why, I don't know if it was conscious or not, but it created a strange symmetry that for me, broke the organic experience of reading. Was there other negative points I found about THE INNOCENT? No.
Crazy, fast-paced noir with meticulously crafted characters, THE INNOCENT goes far and deep into the living hell Keeper Marconi's life has become. Lost inside himself and brutalized by his memories, he will do the impossible to survive and not have himself disgraced. Vincent Zandri is a terrific writer and the hype around him is well-deserved. He struggled, fought and clawed his way out of the purgatory, but ultimately, his books were too good to be ignored. Couldn't happen to a better guy, who is close to his readers and very active online. Drop him a line on his blog, The Vincent Zandri Vox and make sure to read THE INNOCENT. It's terrifying.
* Zandri has about twelve other novels I haven't read yet.