A Fast-Paced, Fatally Flawed Thriller
The Prisoner is a gripping, tense and claustrophobic thriller… at least for the first 100 or so pages. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, as the story sputters in its middle chapters and eventually ends with a whimpering sigh at the end, becoming ever more ruinous and incredulous as time goes by.
The Prisoner is basically like a Netflix B-movie brought to life through the pages of a book; it’s certainly readable but you’re unlikely to come away feeling wholly satisfied.
It’s a shame too because on paper, The Prisoner actually has a solid premise and there’s definitely some good momentum attached to this, especially early on in the story. The spunky (and very naive) protagonist we follow across the 305 pages or so is Amelie, who has grown up a survivor. After losing her parents as a child, she ekes out a living in London, seemingly hitting the jackpot when she marries handsome billionaire Jed Hawthorne.
However, when Amelie is abducted in the middle of the night and tossed in a pitch-black room, she finds herself in a battle to survive. Why has she been taken? Who are her captors? Where’s Ned? And why has all of this happened?
It’s a solid mystery premise and admittedly, it’s enough to begin reading based on that alone. The plot also wastes zero time getting into the story, with the first chapter depicting the kidnapping. The chapters are incredibly snappy, with most taking around 5 minutes or so to read. While that does help to keep the momentum going, the plot swings like a pendulum between the past and present constantly, with the former fleshing out more of what landed Amelie in this dark room and the latter playing out in bitesize chunks of Amelie trying to survive – and escape.
There are a couple of neat little twists here, but most of this is confined to the first half of the story. Understanding what’s happened to Amelie and why is really the driving force for you to keep reading but once the past catches up to the present, there’s not much else to cling to.
In fact, the story then devolves into more of a formulaic, soapy drama that really struggles to keep up momentum.
It doesn’t help that some of the logical beats are completely nonsensical too, even from the past storyline perspective. There’s an amusing rationale for Amelie’s reasoning behind her marriage to Ned which feels like mental gymnastics at times, with Amelie’s moral compass skewed throughout the story. As an example of this, at one point Amelie justifies murder and violence as viable options to survive, but another time she absolutely abhors the concept of her friends thinking of her as a gold digger. As if being a murderer is… better?
But that’s the least of this book’s problems. The whole concept of The Prisoner relies heavily on you suspending your disbelief and devouring this fast enough that you don’t really think about the plot beats too much. There’s almost a meticulousness to the snappy chapters to try and excuse a lot of implausible actions stacked upon one another in favour of a rapidly moving plot.
Even if you make it that far though, the biggest problem is actually saved for the final chapters, which really top off what a disappointing read this was (despite being devoured by yours truly in three sittings). The old adage of “show, don’t tell” is really put to the test as we’re given block after block of tedious explanations and clarifications over character motivations and events.
Ultimately, The Prisoner is not a thriller to remember and unfortunately, just about scrapes the annals of mediocrity.
Verdict - 5.5/10