WELCOME TO BLACKSTONE
Designed by a madman, built with inmate labor and home to the nation’s worst criminals, Blackstone Penitentiary was considered the Alcatraz of the Midwest. Over a one-hundred-year history, it amassed the more odious distinction of being the most haunted location in America.
PAROLE WILL BE GRANTED
No longer in operation and left abandoned, it awaits renovation for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places. Spearheading the ambitious restoration project is Anthony Creighton, a caretaker seeking to unlock the reformatory’s long-buried secrets. He enlists four strangers to help in that mission, individuals who possess extraordinary psychic abilities. Along with a skeptical scientist, the group embarks on the first full-scale paranormal investigation of the notorious prison. Their goal: to confirm the existence of life after death.
TO ANYONE WHO SURVIVES THE NIGHT
Six guests. Ten thousand ghosts. And all of them fighting to escape.
As the title suggests, the novel revolves around Blackstone Penitentiary, conceived of by a man who wanted to make sure that anyone who died there would remain trapped forever. Suffice it to say, the joint is definitely haunted with tens of thousands of souls. It’s a hotbed of supernatural activity, despite the fact that it’s been abandoned for years by the living. Anthony Creighton, the central character, and a man of many secrets and lies, is the showrunner who lures a few choice individuals he has handpicked for their psychic abilities, each different than the next, as well as a scientist with an interest in the occult and metaphysics, all to find out what makes Blackstone tick, and to see if he can restore the place to its former “glory” and to make it into a museum/tourist attraction.
Our handpicked individuals are Stacy “Sully” Sullivan, who has psychokinetic abilities. Because of an ability to visualize numbers and make them get called in casinos, his precognition comes with its limitations. A thug confronts him about money he owes to a Mr. Silvia, who roughs him up badly, and it’s all downhill from there for him until he gets a check in the mail from Creighton for $5000, and the promise of more.
Next up is Byron Fletcher, who is a blind owner of a pawn shop. His faithful companion is a seeing-eye dog, Foster, and although his life isn’t exactly paradise, he gets by, until he, too, is contacted with the $5000 check. We’re then introduced to Jack, an ex-military guy with the ability to bilocate or to be in two places at once, with some astral projection thrown in. He’s sick of being used like a puppet by the US military and sees the cheque as a possible way out. Rounding out the gang is Janet, a waitress trapped in an abusive and loveless marriage without very much money to her name. She gets the cheque, stands up to her husband, and is on her way to Blackstone so she can try to rebuild her future. The previously mentioned scientist, Bruce, starts off as Creighton’s right-hand man, and is a great plot device for letting the reader know about the more important parts of Blackstone’s troubled history, including the most disturbing of the apparitions said to reside there, the Warden, Donatello Nardozzi, and his wife, Aida. The Warden had a reputation for being a toolbox, and it becomes clear that he still has plenty of unfinished business as soon as the group arrives.
It doesn’t take long for things to start going wrong, and the tension builds as more and more is uncovered about the spectral residents of the prison, and although there are definitely parts where it feels like the spirits are playing a cat and mouse game with the group of investigators, there’s a lot more at stake than just whether they will make it out alive.
I’m a huge fan of stories like this that feature an ensemble cast of people with differing abilities who wouldn’t otherwise have any reason to know each other but they get thrown together and have to figure out a way to persevere. The backstory, as it gets revealed more with each passing chapter, is fascinating, and the climax, once all the major details and reader’s questions have been answered, is a fantastic payoff.
I’m also a fan of prison dramas, and loved both “Oz” and “Prison Break” when they were on the air, and think it’s very cool that this story provides a supernatural exploration on this type of story with some elements of a Haunted House story thrown in. “Blackstone” makes for an excellent read, and should definitely be high on your list if you ever wanted to see a mashup of “The Shawshank Redemption” with “The Amityville Horror”.