Emancipation by Jo Michaels is Story One in a Pen Pals and Serial Killers series by Jo Michaels. I previously reviewed Book Five, a short story, in the same series. Impressed by the writing style, I rated Book Five at four Amazon stars. This novel, Story One, is a five Amazon star read. There are surprises throughout which reveal many opportunities for spoilers. I will be careful not to do so.
The primary setting of Emancipation is a prison giving readers a realistic and possibly entertaining portrait of a life spent under incarceration. My experience was limited to that of a Deputy Sheriff in county jail, but I found the experiences prisoners face is accurate except for the length of stay.
Tobias was in prison serving a sentence that was scheduled to end in his execution. He had killed women in brutal ways because he enjoyed torture if he was the one administering it. Not heartless, he had mercifully killed his last few children with a shot to the head. They did not have to watch him raping their mother. He left that show for the husband before he then shot the husband. Most of the fun he derived was from the eventual killing of the wife. Those were the murders that landed him on death row. There had been other murders; perhaps they had only been practice for his last one. He hadn’t been convicted of all of them. There were probably still bodies to be found.
Now he was imprisoned with no outlet for his creative impulses. He could occasionally initiate fights with other prisoners who violated various prisoner codes, but he had to be careful. There were well-organized gangs. Unless Tobias was clearly in the right, unless the offender had transparently violated prisoner traditions, a group would target him, and he would end up on the wrong side of the torture curve. Meanwhile, there was little to do but eat, sleep, mingle, and shit. Then there were the pen pals.
There was a segment of a population that loved to communicate with prisoners. Some wanted to proselyte, as in the case of those with missionary zeal. Some were living out fantasy lives of having a relationship with a “bad boy.” Some may have been looking for a relationship with a stable person; the correspondent would always know where their pen pals were. Jessica Phang did not belong to the first group. Toby was not sure what her real interest was, but he saw an opportunity. It was not like he had anything else to occupy his time. Jessica was a lawyer who claimed to have studied his case in law school. She had scrutinized the matter and thought she saw opportunities for a retrial and possible exoneration that would lead to an immediate release. What did he have to lose? Tobias imagined the possibility of freedom and the opportunity to kill Jessica.
Master manipulator Tobias would spend time composing letters with the idea of seducing Jessica. Her messages and pictures indicated to Tobias that she was vulnerable to emotional and even physical seduction. Guards could be bribed; privacy could be purchased for at least a few hours.
As Tobias put his plan into action, the novel turns into a psychological thriller. Tobias is street smart and cunning. Jessica is well educated and, although emotionally vulnerable, acutely aware of psychological devices employed in deceit and lying. After all, she was a lawyer. If Tobias overplayed his hand, Jessica would detect his ploys. Tobias would lose the offer of free legal representation in his appeal for freedom. Tobias would have to show an uncharacteristically quiet and human side. Such an act would require practice.
While interactions with Jessica proceeded over time, Tobias continued to survive and plot his life in prison. Tobias wanted to get rid of his noxious cellmate “Rooster.” Maybe Jessica could help. Tobias needed to plan the elimination of “The Beast” before that individual eliminated Tobias over an argument about who owned a picture of Jessica. Tobias could do that without Jessica. Donuts were high on a want list. Maybe Jessica could bring them after she had been added as the attorney of record for Tobias. Jessica agreed to place money on the commissary account of Tobias so he could buy Doritos, another item high on his want list.
After Jessica’s first letter, one offering legal representation, mail communication between Tobias and Jessica continued a regular basis and with an ever-increasing stream of sexual innuendo. Would their relationship develop to the next level of conjugal visits? Would Tobias get a new trial? If so, what would be the verdict? Would Jessica and Tobias ever build a picket fence to contain 2.5 children? Or would Tobias achieve his final desire and perhaps strangle and kill Jessica in the prison’s visiting room?
Fast-paced with many surprises, lots of horror, and a fantastic conclusion, I highly recommend this book in its genre. I am reading Emancipation as part of the five-book plus a few chapters of Manipulation series available on Amazon for USD 2.99. I look forward to reading the entire series.