Con is a complex psychological thriller and a sequel to the author’s novel ‘Perilaus II’, but you don’t need to have read the first novel, though reading ‘Con’ will almost certainly inspire you to read its predecessor.
We enter the dangerous, disturbing world of the prison here and the author takes us to the beast without the often protective voice of understatement but with the enabling veil of black humour. I laughed out loud at some of the antics and descriptions, even as I shrunk from some of the more unpleasant (a euphemism, I’m afraid) aspects of prison life as depicted.
We are re-introduced to Doug Carmichael, the untrustworthy protagonist of ‘Perilaus II’, as he approaches the point in his prison sentence when parole may be possible. As a man totally unsuited to prison life, a man of intelligence, taste, and familiarity with luxury, his term of incarceration has been faced with the fortitude of the survivor.
When a forensic psychologist, Fiona, is appointed to determine his true state of mind prior to a potential release back into the outside world, he is forced to face the realities of his own personality, while also providing her with insight into the life of the prisoner. She demands, and sometimes gets, complete honesty. But Carmichael’s inner turmoil and uncertainties, stemming from childhood issues he is reluctant to face, make him play a game with her, feeding her half-truths and occasional downright lies along with his anecdotes and essays.
The relationship between these two people is at the heart of the novel, but Carmichael’s development as a human being is also a major theme, as he struggles to accept what Fiona’s deep questioning reveals about him.
If you’ve ever wondered about prison life (this particular sentence is spent in Scottish jails, but I suspect the descriptions of drug use, violence, criminal minds, and the behaviour of those under sentence is much the same everywhere) this book will enlighten you. Taken as a warning to avoid prison, I’m sure it would make many people think very hard before committing any criminal act! The author has spent time teaching in prisons, so he does know what he’s talking about.
I found this a hard read at times, highly amusing at others, engaging throughout, and very satisfying. If you’re sensitive to foul language, remember this book is an honest account of prison life and tells the truth about the people and events in such an institution, using, where appropriate, the often colourful words used by the inmates. You have been warned. Now, having read this sequel, I’m tempted to re-read Perilaus II, and apply the insights of the prison book to the character of the protagonist as depicted in the first novel.
I should make it known I acted as a beta reader for this book prior to its final editing and publication.
You’ll find my review of Perilaus II here. And there are other reviews of Con here, and an interesting Q&A with the author, here.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]