The Prisoner of Hell Gate: A Novel


Four grad students and their young professor are lounging on their boat around North Brother Island. The island houses the remains of the hospital that treated the typhoid outbreak of the early 1900’s. It is also where “Typhoid Mary” was kept for many years until her death. But what if she was still alive? Boredom and curiosity lead the students to the island and they end up stranded there, but not entirely alone.

I like the idea here. The island and Mary’s story are surrounded by mystery and creepiness. There’s a lot you can do with such a topic, but I don’t feel like this idea went anywhere. It is so predictable and not really scary. The creep factor is low. Mary isn’t really lurking in the shadows or a mysterious presence. Spoiler I guess, but she just comes out and basically greets everyone. Horror tropes ensue, but they are clumsy and filled with plot holes. Why did a character go off alone? Why did they conveniently set themselves up for being killed? Why did take a bunch of drugs? Why did they eat questionable food? The list goes on and on and on. There’s some paranormal subplot which doesn’t seem to fit. Is Mary real? She’d be over 100 if so and there’s no real explanation about how that is possible either. It is possible that the whole ordeal is a drug trip gone wrong and one character goes crazy, but that’s cheap.

Then there’s the characters. They are so incredibly shallow. They are just walking stereotypes that serve as check-boxes for diversities sake. There’s the misogynistic sort of hot professor guy, a Korean who is gay (because announcing his sexuality really matters apparently), a Jewish guy (again, why does that matter) who I only remember because him pushing his glasses up with his pinky is his only defining characteristic, a girl with a disability and a Spanish accent who constantly messes up English sayings. It seems like the author means this to be funny, but it comes off a little insulting. The final character is Karalee Soper, the great-granddaughter to the man who caught Typhoid Mary. Beyond that Karalee is a photographer with an abusive history. I’m all for diversity in books, but it feels so forced here.

So, pass on this one. Not scary, flat as paper characters, trope-filled plot. The most interesting thing is the historical facts and events sprinkled within, but do yourself a favor and read a nonfiction book for that.

*I received this for free from a Goodreads giveaway.

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