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The Four Stages of Cruelty: A Novel

3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  187 ratings  ·  39 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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“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
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!
Dec 28, 2010 Bob rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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.
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
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!
Philip Alexander
Well written, sharp, clear prose similar to that of Richard Price. Kali Williams, corrections officer and protagonist is an amazingly complex character. The plot and attention paid to the prison atmoshpere is compelling and completely believable.
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Paul Kiczek
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
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
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
Ryan Mishap
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
A meditation on memory and crime & punishment dressed up as a damn good prison story. Read it!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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.
Mike Duke
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were authentic and the author did his research and knew the lingo, environment, etc. very well. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes any kind of psychological horror or crime drama.
Will tackle this again when I feel up to something that, of necessity, contains a lot of brutality. Right now, not so much, though the style was interesting and this gets great reviews.
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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.” 4 likes
“It’s comforting to me,” he added, “that beauty can come from violence, if only in metaphor.” 3 likes
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