Tag Archives: literature

Review: Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale


I asked my family for all the Joe Lansdale titles I had not yet collected for Christmas presents this year. They came through just fine!

Joe Lansdale is a master of modern writing. He does not pigeon-hole himself into one genre or another. Thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, detectives, short stories, novellas, longer novels, series writing. This guy is a modern master. I look up to him.

This little novella is hardly more than a very long short story. It begins on page 11 and it finishes on page 82. It contains 8 pages of illustration inside that range. I’m certain it is intended to be read in a single sitting, although I ended up breaking it into two pieces. I’m kind of happy I finished it in the daylight. This is a creepy story.

It is written in third person past tense. Only four human characters engage in all the action. (There is, of course, the “other” dark force and, although it clearly has intent and will, it does not speak.) All characters are associated with a prison and all may be prisoners on special assignment. Or they may not. It doesn’t really matter since they all have some good in them and are just trying to do their jobs. I’m about 88% sure that good prevails at the end of this story.

The action all takes place on an island. Lansdale refers to actions which take place on a neighboring island where the prison is located. The use of an island is excellent because we know no one is coming to save the day. In fact, we know that the protagonist(s) cannot escape to save themselves. Pretty smart writing.

I won’t tell you the story; that wouldn’t be fair. I will tell you that there are passages of excellent horror and moments that, if read before bed, might induce some disturbing sleep images. Here’s a favorite.

“…Slowly, it lifted its head to the cloud-touched moon, and that howl, that dreadful howl, that sound that uncoiled from inside the (bad guy), came out. It was both frightening and depressing. It was like the howl of something or someone that had just realized it was missing something important, and that the lack of it was an awareness so dark and deep there was no crawling out of it. It was a sound that made Bernard feel all the evil in the world, all the futility and disappointment of life, of his own life. It was a howl that reached down deep inside of him and touched a hidden nerve so buried, causing it to throb. Bernard felt that his life and all the lives that were being lived, had lived or would be lived were nothing more than desperation personified.”


One other thing that Lansdale does as well as anyone, and better than almost all, is the interjection of humor into the horror. I’m not sure how that happens in the mind of a horror writer but here’s how it looks on the page in dialog. The heroes have hatched a plan to stop the evil.

“Bernard and Wilson scrambled into the dozer. Bernard said, “You ever play cowboy?”
“Ever roped a cow?”
“Of course not. But if you would like to take the time to explain it to me, nothing would please me more, except for that whole giant, bad-ass monster shit.”

N’yuck, n’yuck.

The most distressing part of this little publication (Dark Regions Press, 2014) is that it suffers from a few instances of poor editing. I kind of hate editing errors. There is no real excuse for them, but here’s a sampling of what I found. Do these set your grammar nerves on edge?

1. How about this three sentence set?
“Bernard moved through the split in the trees, walking back the way they had came. Wilson caught up with him obviously not wishing to be left alone.
“They came to where the trees broke and stood where the dozer had come.”

2. Or the reference to how one could “wreck vengeance?”

There are others, but I’ll leave them to your discerning eye. Anyway, typos and editorial errors aren’t really the fault of the writer.

Lastly, it is, as I indicated, an illustrated version of the story, and, while the illustrations are suitably gray and gloomy, I’m not convinced that they add that much to the publication. But they don’t really distract too much either. So, there’s that.

Overall, it gets a 4 star rating on Amazon but the sole 1 star review and one of two 2 star reviews admit that the readers don’t seem to like the horror genre very much. I would assign those readers low stars for buying a book about stuff they don’t like. You like horror? You like hints of the occult? Dig this one.