Gritty and graphic will come to mind as the reader sees the inside of Green Haven, a gray concrete prison in upper New York state. Incarceration is the watchword, because these inmates are beyond rehabilitation. Drugs, sex, and violence prevail as Jack Marconi, the warden, is barely able to keep some semblance of order with his smaller than needed staff of corrections officers.
And that order is destroyed as Eduard Vasquez, a convicted cop killer, escapes on his return from a dental appointment with an outside dentist. Marconi signed the release permitting the visit, so he is ultimately to blame. The transporting correction officers claim that they thought Vasquez was having a heart attack so they pulled over to the side of the road. When they stopped, a van of thugs attacked them and left them in a gravel pit while Vasquez escaped.
Washington Pelton, the state Superintendent of Prisons, demands to talk with Marconi. Marconi avoids him while collecting data, believing that the officers are lying. Returning to the scene, he finds a revolver and handcuff keys and not knowing whom to trust, takes them to an outside source for fingerprinting. His source is Mike Norman, a lieutenant in a police department that has no jurisdiction in this case. Marconi also searches Vasquez's cell and finds a crushed envelope from Vasquez's girl friend that he does not turn over to the local authorities.
Marconi, Pelton and Norman have a history. All three had been correction officers and were held hostage during the infamous Attica prison break. Pelton, playing politics, had ended up Marconi's superior, and Norman fled to the city level and became a detective, sustained by liquor. And liquor has been the sustaining force for Marconi since his wife was killed a year earlier in a hit and run accident. The driver was never found and Marconi is having a hard time getting past it.
Marconi knows that almost everyone involved is dirty and sets out to find Vasquez himself. In this search, the only person he can trust is his secretary, Val. Corruption permeates at every level and Marconi must fight his way through the maze of deception.
Part of this tale is told by flashbacks, dreams and inner dialogue that is sometimes disjointed. This technique is frequently used as a scene shifter, but here it is sometimes just a little out of synch. The author's descriptions leave no doubt about the sordidness of prison life. This is a strongly visual book. It is unfortunate that there are so few characters to like.
The use of a prison superintendent as a protagonist brings a different perspective to this novel. As Catch Can is well researched and fast paced, but the overall tone is sordid and somber. Debut author Vincent Zandri paints a vivid, effective word picture of prison life, although it may reveal more than most people would ever want to know. If you're in the mood for dark, twisting crime thriller, you might give As Catch Can a look.