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The Four Stages of Cruelty: A Novel

3.35  ·  Rating Details  ·  203 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Ditmarsh Penitentiary holds many secrets within its walls. A maximum-security prison, it contains every breed of hatred, self-destruction, greed, and regret. Its inmates aren't the only ones who grapple with these emotions. Under constant threat yet given absolute authority, the guards routinely cross the divide between law enforcement and criminality.

Corrections Officer K
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 7th 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 424)
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Dec 17, 2010 Cynthia rated it really liked it
“Four Stages of Cruelty” is a precise description of life behind bars as seen through both the prisoner’s and the guard’s viewpoints. It’s chilling. Kali is one of the few female guard’s at her facility and she feels like an outsider. Nineteen year old Josh is one of the youngest and newest prisoners and is completely lost as he tries to settle into life behind bars. Hollihan tells his story through both Kali and Josh’s eyes though Josh’s voice rings truer.

Josh’s next door cellmate Crawley has
Jul 23, 2011 Annie rated it really liked it
Very interesting take on the Corrections Officer profession, however it's a difficult book to recommend.

I believe that in order for this novel to be appreciated, the reader needs to have a working understanding of the profession of a Corrections Worker in order to really understand the situations the main character is put into and how realistic and likely these situations are. However, the book deals with corruption and what seems like the "worst case scenarios" of people employed into correcti
Mauoijenn ~ *Mouthy Jenn* ~
Interesting story from a woman CO point of view from inside a prison for males. The only thing I really liked was a brief mention of my all time favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird. That's about it. Weird and it made me feel kind of depressed once I was done. So-so!
Philip Alexander
Jul 13, 2016 Philip Alexander rated it it was amazing
Well written, sharp, clear prose that put me in mind of Richard Price. Kali Williams, corrections officer and protagonist is an amazingly complex character. The detail and attention paid to the prison atmoshpere is compelling and completely believable. Prison stories are not easy to write, and many authors make the mistake of crafting wild, excessive characters to achieve credibility; make you feel like you're walking those frightening corridors and navigating around characters who could eat you ...more
Dec 28, 2010 Bob rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
Three and a half stars really. Maybe even four. A prison novel isn't exactly holiday week reading and, as usual, I read this one with repellant fascination. I think the reviews here do it some injustice, though: it's not that nasty. It's almost more of a crime novel with a mystery at the center, told mostly from the interesting point of view of a female corrections officer in a men's facility. It's also extremely well written, enough so to say that this is one of the better crime debuts of the y ...more
Stevie Mikayne
Dec 09, 2014 Stevie Mikayne rated it it was amazing
This is a gripping and visceral book. A literary achievement unlike anything I've ever read. Agree, though, that its content and situations make it difficult to 'recommend' per se.
Jul 19, 2014 Edward rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The narrator, a 39 year-old female correctional officer (CO), is wonderfully realistic. Her past, her present, are skillfully rendered such that her values and ideas align with what we know of her. The place she works, a maximum security prison is almost as realistic. Her colleagues and the men under her supervision are mostly fully realized. If this were only a novel of the experiences of a beleaguered CO, and the prison at which she works, it would be quite extraordinary.

But Hollihan grafts on
Linda Sienkiewicz
Dec 30, 2010 Linda Sienkiewicz rated it it was amazing
This is not typically the sort of book I'd read, a seemingly violence-studded thriller with a mystery at its core, I was wowed. It truly engaged me. It opened my eyes to another world, the underbelly of prison life. It wasn't pretty, but it was a fascinating story of survival and morality, told through the eyes of a female corrections officer who discovers surprising criminal alliances that involve her fellow officers and the inmates.

Must read!
Jul 12, 2011 Kris rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Paul Kiczek
Jul 18, 2011 Paul Kiczek rated it really liked it
What's a nice, tough girl doing in a place like Ditmarsh Penitentiary? The unlikely narrative of Kali Williams, a CO (corrections officer) there along with many strange people with hidden agendas and a stark prison that hooked me enough to make this a fast page-turner.
While we dont get to know Kali, we get an impression that she's strong-willed enough to work at Ditmarsh and principled just enough to work through some mysterious plots in a prison where the underground guard network may be just
Feb 14, 2013 Mcgyver5 rated it really liked it
I was reluctant to read this book because I thought it was going to be a sad story without much action about a young convict that I was supposed to feel sorry for. Why did I think this? I dunno, the cover? Once I began, though, the plot just took right off and I barely gave a shit about the kid. Graphic and fast paced, this book would make a great movie.

Every so often, I hear someone on NPR rave about a "crime fiction" author. Lee Child and Carl Hiaasen come to mind. I go and read the authors an
Feb 22, 2011 Mini rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was in a reading slump when I saw this book at a local book shop and decided to send a sample via amazon to my kindle. I enjoyed the sample and bought the book. Unfortunately, this books price was set by the publisher and it was well over $10. It looses one star for that.

I really enjoyed this book and had no problems finishing it. I found the characters interesting despite it being set in a prison, which I normally would not read. There was just enough action and intrigue to keep me picking it
Jan 31, 2016 Irwin rated it it was ok
Very dark tale of the inner workings of a prison. Well written, but for me never really went anywhere, and split into a variety of tangents, none of which I cared about, nor even remembered upon returning to the story. Avoid this one, not worth the time.
Sep 02, 2015 Jacquelynn rated it it was ok
Shelves: my-library
I enjoyed this novel by not as much as I wanted to. I had really high hopes for this story and I feel that it had the makings of something really great but than petered out. I feel the ending came pretty much out of no where but the character development was on point. I also throughly enjoyed the way the author switched the POVs to give you a more rounded version of the events going on.
Ryan Mishap
Mar 26, 2011 Ryan Mishap rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
Promises a hard look at the human capacity for cruelty and compassion; the mysteries of why we do what we do. I think the idea is that no one is untainted by corruption or free from complicity in horrors; conversely, everybody has the capacity to do good, to extend compassion if not forgiveness.

The problem, here, however, is that this compelling story takes place inside a prison and it becomes too easy to rely on the old prisoners are animals theory when needed. Apart from that, the setting imp
Feb 24, 2015 Chad rated it it was amazing
A meditation on memory and crime & punishment dressed up as a damn good prison story. Read it!
Dec 15, 2010 Anna rated it really liked it
Shelves: fave-adult-2010
A "Beat the Reaper" in terms of brutality -- and equally engaging although not nearly so fast pace. An interesting psychological study, I found myself rereading many a passage & deep in ponder (yeah, my brain ain't totally frozen after all). In other words, it was nice to read something that made me think for a change -- even amidst the scenes of torture (not really my thing) & having recently read "The Accidental Librarian" made the book all the more interesting.
Sep 06, 2011 Betsy rated it liked it
Shelves: library
This is not even close to the usual type of books that I read, but it was on a list of the best books of the month by It is very graphic, disturbing and more real than other books that have to do with psycopaths, plot twists, and other graphic content such as in a James Patterson book. I don't know if I would recommend it unless you have a strong desire to find out what it is like to work as a Correctional Officer as a woman in a major lockdown jail.
Jan 14, 2011 Alecia rated it liked it
This is a gritty, seemingly realistic prison novel. The story is told through two voices, a female prison guard, Kali, and a young inmate, Joshua. Some of it is quite well-written, and the reader can feel what the "inside" might be like, and the view of the COs and other guards working in the prison is evoked nicely. But the narrative kind of lost me at times, as the thread of the story/mystery felt a bit disjointed. But it's a good debut novel.
Audacia Ray
Jan 12, 2011 Audacia Ray rated it liked it
Intensely visceral writing, with well-developed main characters. Some of the peripheral characters end up not making a lot of sense though, and the mystery / thriller plot line in the novel ultimately didn't really work for me. I started out being totally enveloped in the book, and ended up a bit disappointed. Worth reading for Hollihan's scene-setting and the darkness of the thing, but frustrating too from the craft standpoint.
Jeremy Hurd-McKenney
Mar 05, 2011 Jeremy Hurd-McKenney rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011, mystery
An intricate mystery, well-spun and well-written, set in the background of a maximum security prison. Holliahan takes you through the ins and outs of the Ditmarsh Social Club, a group of dirty corrections officers and inmates as they hunt the nooks and crannies of the prison, looking for a hidden treasure. Sometimes funny, sometimes violent, but always poignant, The Four Stages of Cruelty is a real page turner.
M Tat
Aug 01, 2011 M Tat added it
The narrator/female lead is a complete foil: in other words, a very poorly established character (from the get go). Meanwhile, the characterization of the penitentiary environment is well developed--it's a grimy, gritty, painful world. I would disagree with anyone who suggests there are any but superficial impressions/statements made in this work: this is not a literary novel.
May 21, 2012 Ryland rated it really liked it
Violent and depressing. Also quite good. This is the first time I've read a book with this tone that has a female narrator. Normally, with male narrators, you'll get some variety of the chip-on-the-shoulder, don't-give-a-damn attitude, but Kali's perspective didn't come with those typically macho aspects, which definitely made for a fresh and interesting read.
Melissa Centrella
May 08, 2012 Melissa Centrella rated it it was ok
This book was good, definitely different, I don't read about prison life very often. A little depressing, it does show how cruel people can be but also shows a little speck of hope. Overall the story got away from me, had the potential to go in too many directions and seemed it couldn't decide what it wanted to be.
Aug 27, 2012 Katherine rated it liked it
Set in a prison, it's told from alternating points of view of a young female prison guard and a young inmate. There is something mysterious going on in the prison, something evil, all told in a comic book created by the inmate, Josh. I enjoyed this one a lot. Lots of twists and turns and good, distinct characters.
Feb 28, 2011 Felicia rated it really liked it
The Four Stages of Cruelty was an interesting read. At times feeling more like a biting character study than an actual mystery or thriller, the novel is well-written with compelling characters and a gritty prison setting that showcases the poignancy and starkness of emotional connections. Highly recommended.
Apr 27, 2011 Terrence rated it it was ok
A mixed bag - Hollihan captures the stifling atmosphere of prison, the dark motivations of the inmates and COs, but in trying to wrap it up in an over-complex, but ultimately shallow plot only results in a disappointing conclusion to what turns out to be a mediocre book.
Kathy Doll
Sep 29, 2013 Kathy Doll rated it really liked it
Fantastic story. The writing is impeccable and beautiful even though the subject matter is horrible and frightening. The main character is a woman, but the voice does not ring true to me as feminine. But that is just the tiniest of complaints. I loved this book very much.
Feb 07, 2011 Bettyb rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
Excellent debut novel. Complex characters caught in an interesting situation. I couldn't decide who was a "bad" guy and who was a "good" guy. I finished the book and I still don't know for sure. Good reading and I recommend it highly.
John McKenna
Jul 30, 2012 John McKenna rated it really liked it
Lots of twists and turns, like being dropped in the middle of a cornfield maze-blindfolded. This book will keep you busy long after you're supposed to do chores. Can't wait to see what Keith Hollihan writes next. He's good.
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“I was in awe of the mystery of human compassion and the inability of love to make the distance between us any more bearable.” 5 likes
“It’s comforting to me,” he added, “that beauty can come from violence, if only in metaphor.” 3 likes
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