"The Prisoners of Stewartville" Book Review
Written by Jennifer Turner
Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing
Written by Shannon Felton
2020, 157 pages, Fiction
Released on February 20th, 2020
I’ve always had a soft spot for the small town with a dark secret subgenre of horror. The old adage is the nicer the town the worse the horror. Check out other novels in this subgenre like Peter Straub’s Ghost Story or Stephen King’s 'Salem’s Lot, both featuring absolutely picturesque locations that are destroyed by the things that go bump in the night.
What differentiates The Prisoners of Stewartville from the normal fare is how dark it is. Stewartville is not the home of June and Ward Cleaver; it’s already a haunted place long before the horror enters the scene. This is a place that is dominated by a prison where all of the residents expect to end up one day as either an employee or a resident.
Casey our protagonist is far too familiar with the prison of Stewartville having lost his mother to those gritty cells as a child. Raised by his older brother he tries to navigate this dark town of going nowhere fast without getting swept up in its seedy underbelly. When he and his friend Denny the son of one of the prisons luckless employees discovers a strange tunnel, they accidentally release something that speeds this poor and maligned town to their inevitable destruction.
What really drew me to the book is the author Shannon Felton's amazingly realistic portrayal of the dead end small town life. I once grew up in an idyllic small town, the picture post card kind of place that every tourist wanted to visit and every resident wanted to leave. Like the characters in the book, teenage me would wander around in the unending quest to self medicate and forget the boring town that was essentially a prison unto itself.
Pretty much every character introduced in the novel reminds me of someone I knew in that place. Charlie the soft hearted vet who acts as an honorary big brother to the teens, the shy and goofy Denny and Camille the girl next door forced to grow up too fast. There is so much realism in these characters that it sometimes hurts to read it.
What I love most about this book is how the whole story keeps the reader on their toes. I went into this novel thinking “Yummy, a small town meets the supernatural, my favorite.”
It is supernatural and it’s also not. It’s a literary teeter totter of is it an evil presence or a figment of someone unhinged imagination. Even the ending of the novel balances the line leaving the reader trying to sort out the truth long after the novel is finished. If I have any criticisms of the book, it’s that it does seem rushed towards the ending. One character is simply dismissed without a proper sendoff; you can assume what happened but at the same time this was one of my favorite people and the vagueness is disappointing.
But while the ending is rushed it’s still a satisfying story that is guaranteed to hook you in. If you love the small-town horror subgenre as much as I do, then this is the book to read.
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