Wednesday, August 31, 2011
New Review by Geoff Gander
The Snake Den is the harshly realistic, yet ultimately uplifting, story of Shawn Brodie, a 14-year old boy living on the frontier in late 19th century Arizona Territory. Faced with the need to feed his mother and younger sister, Shawn comes across a lamed cow on the open range. He puts is out of its misery, and is caught while carving off a haunch to take back home. Judged to be a common thief, he is sentenced to three years in Yuma Penitentiary, a place that is widely known to be a hellhole from which no one escapes.
Once there, we see the horror of prison life through Shawn’s eyes. He is reduced to a number, or, even worse, forced to answer to crude nicknames. He is beaten up by guards, subjected to arbitrary punishment – including confinement in an isolated cell known as the Snake Den - and threatened by fellow inmates with death. At the outset, one wonders whether Shawn will survive his sentence.
Fortunately, he is not alone. Shawn’s three cellmates – Shoo Lee, “Kid” Pringle, and “Shark” Blanchard – take a liking to him, and become his protectors, friends, and teachers. He learns life lessons from each of them, and as the novel progresses he grows in ways that would not have been possible had he not been sent to Yuma. Pride of place goes to Shoo Lee, a taciturn Oriental man who teaches Shawn how to meditate, and how to defend himself, and whose guidance gives Shawn the confidence he needs to face his enemies.
By the end of the novel, after surviving a major, much-anticipated conflict, Shawn is well on his way to becoming a strong, independent man. The story concludes with the door open to further adventures.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Mr. Tyrell does an expert job in bringing the reader into Shawn’s world, presenting the prison through his (at first) terrified eyes, and later making that world somewhat less intimidating as Shawn matures and begins to figure out what he needs to do. I would certainly recommend this to anyone.