Rachel McLean

– Thrillers That Make You Think

Book recommendations: Prison

I’ve just finished the second draft of Divide and Rule, which takes place in a prison. So I thought I’d add a post here with some books set in prisons.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

No list of prison books would be complete without this classic. It’s probably more famous as one of the best films of the twentieth century (imho), starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. I watched it a few times many years ago and keep meaning to watch tit again. But it all started with a story by Stephen King, titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, included in the Different Seasons collection.

In this classic collection of four novellas, the grand master takes you on irresistible journeys into the far reaches of horror, heartache and hope.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is the story of two men convicted of murder – one guilty, one innocent – who form the perfect partnership as they dream up a scheme to escape from prison.

Buy on Amazon in the UK and US.


Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman

The prison novel is a genre (if you can call it that) dominated by male writers, but this is an exception. This is another one that went to the screen, spawning the hit Netflix series.

With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before.

But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system.

From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

Buy on Amazon in the UK and US.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This is the story of a woman imprisoned for committing a murder she can’t remember. We learn about the experience of women in Victorian prisons, the gruesome and misogynistic Victorian criminal justice system, and eventually learn about the murder. For some reason the bit that lingers with me is when she wipes the breadknife and puts it away in a drawer.

This is another one that’s found its way to Netflix – I’ve clearly found the right genre to entertain my notions of one day being picked up by Hollywood!

It’s 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Captivating and disturbing, Alias Grace showcases bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood at the peak of her powers.

Buy on Amazon in the UK and US.

Divide and Rule by Rachel McLean

Yes, mine comes last again! This is the sequel to A House Divided and the cover design is brand new – this is the first time I’ve revealed it.

Kira Sinclair’s fight to save her political career, her family and her freedom has failed. Traumatised by prison violence, she agrees to transfer to the mysterious British Values Centre.

Rita Gurumurthy has betrayed her country and failed the children in her care. Unlike Kira, she has no choice, but finds herself in the centre against her will.

Both women are expected to conform, to prove their loyalty to the state and to betray everything they hold dear. One attempts to comply, while the other rebels. Will either succeed in regaining her freedom?

Divide and Rule is 1984 for the 21st century – a chilling thriller examining the ruthless measures the state will take to ensure obedience, and the impact on two women.


Posted in Book Recommendations

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