Home > Book, Book Review, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thriller > Book Review – ‘The Prisoner’ by Carlos J. Cortes

Book Review – ‘The Prisoner’ by Carlos J. Cortes

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Synopsis:

2049. Earth’s prisons are shut down and all inmates placed in massive hibernation tanks. In the ten years since then, no one has broken out…until now.

When prisoners check into Washington D.C.’s maximum security “sugar cube,” they don’t check out. Here lie suspended not just the planet’s most dangerous criminals, but also half a million so-called “center inmates”—troublesome activists whose only offense is to challenge those in power.

Laurel Cole was one of those inmates—and now she’s on the run. After pulling off a meticulously executed escape plan, she and her team must elude the police by descending into the tunnels that run like poisoned veins beneath the city. Pursued by a ruthless mercenary who knows these sewers better than anyone, Laurel seeks help from a group of renegades who live huddled in the fetid darkness. But if she ever hopes to see daylight again—and expose the government’s lies—she’ll have to go even deeper. . . and the clock is ticking.

I really wanted to love this book ‘The Prisoner‘ by Carlos J. Cortes – I thought the whole premise of it based on the back cover synopsis was very fascinating. A future society which has done away with traditional prisons, but instead suspend the bad guys in hibernation for x number of years as punishment? Check. A corrupt government which abuses the system? Check. An escaped prisoner on the run from authorities? Check. Should easily be a winner, right?

Wrong. It pains me to say that it seemed to me that the author squandered what could have been a really good, gripping thriller of a story cum social commentary about governmental abuse of power. I thought for sure this was a first novel, turns out it’s the author’s second book, so I guess he can still be considered a newbie – but that’s not really an excuse. More likely, Mr. Cortes just needed a better editor.

First, I have to correct some things from the ‘official synopsis’. Laurel Cole is actually an idealistic lawyer, who is planted in the hibernation prison (together with two other lawyers) for the sole purpose of breaking out Elliot Russo – one of the special ‘illegal’ prisoners – who was detained and placed under hibernation without the benefit of a trial. Laurel Cole and her shadowy bosses (Senator Jerome Palmer, Shepherd and a mysterious accomplice who I won’t spoil) intend to use Russo to expose this corruption within the system. But things go awry in the escape plan, and we have to follow Laurel and her team as they navigate the underground sewerage system since this is their only avenue of escape.

Meanwhile, the ‘corrupt government’ represented by head villainess Odelle Marino, the Director of Homeland Security, chases after them with the help of her henchmen, including the omnipotent mercenary Nikola Masek. Supposedly, Odelle Marino is a political genius who is pretty much de-facto president of the USA in all but name.

Sounds pretty cool, right? Like I said, the ‘What If’ idea is very intriguing. Obviously, Carlos J. Cortes spent a lot of time on research, and I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the sewers of Washington DC. It’s like Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ except that we learn about the underground world. And how we learn! It’s like Mr Cortes spent so much energy on research, he just had to show off what he learned, not just about the sewer system, but there are extended parts of the novel where he goes off at a tangent just to basically talk at length about one thing or another (i.e. how to run a ‘green’ farm) that has nothing much to do with advancing the plot.

Unfortunately also, the plot devolves to become this huge melodramatic soap opera where we discover that certain people are actually related to each other (as in ‘Luke, I am your father’ related), and that ‘spurned love’ is the reason for why Elliot Russo was illegally detained. I don’t really want to spoil things, so I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that I was very disappointed when the author started to reveal the different characters’ almost-cartoonish motivations for doing what they did.

Color me doubly disappointed with the lack of believable flesh-and-bone characters. For example, Odelle Marino is a laughable villain and I kept on wondering how she got into such a position of power, since she pretty much acts like an air-head spoiled brat who is mean, spiteful and just lashes out at everyone throughout the entire novel. The other characters are not much better, and pretty much remain two-dimensional throughout.

And I really don’t know when it became the fashion to kill all suspense in suspense / thriller novels (like Stephen King’s Under the Dome). I pretty much knew all that was going to happen in the penultimate chapter since one way or the other, the author had revealed his hand multiple times in previous chapters. Sigh. I don’t know, maybe I’m being too hard on Mr. Cortes.

The novel isn’t a total wash – I have definitely read worse (like The Appeal by John Grisham) – and at least it isn’t a boring novel (like Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol). It’s actually a pretty entertaining novel at its heart – and as I’ve said, the basic plot kicks ass before it detours into a Telemundo soap opera – I just wish the plot and characterization was executed better.

The Prisoner is available on Amazon as a Mass Market Paperback ($7.99) and as a Kindle Edition ($6.39).

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  1. jadesmith09
    December 22, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Good review. I am a huge fan of Preston and Child thrillers, but there are times in all this genre where you just get fed up with the encyclopedic information. It’s like the author needed to fill space, so let’s talk for a while about something that doesn’t involve the plot–like you said about the green farms. Too bad about this book, interesting premise, though.

    • December 22, 2009 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks, yeah I so agree with you about the information regurgitation so rampant now in thrillers – it’s like everyone goes – but Crichton / Brown were celebrated for that! – so frustrating though for readers who have to wade through it.

  2. January 23, 2010 at 6:08 am

    I actually enjoyed this book. I have to agree with you, I didn’t understand why the author introduced the information about the green farming, and I now know way more than I wanted to about the sewer system. *shudder* But all in all, it’s a book I was glad I read and would recommend.

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