Recommended: Stoney Places by Frederic Berthoff

First, a mild disclaimer. I knew the author of this novel – Stoney Places: A Twenty Year Sentence when I was a child. His family were friends of my family, his sister a friend of my oldest brother and he himself a close friend of my other old brother. That said, I haven’t seen Fred in more than 40 years, and knew only of his story second-hand. I knew that he had been a drug smuggler. That he’d been caught and sentenced to a long term in federal prison. He’s been out for some time now, and has written and published a novel based on his experiences. This is that book. I’ve been pouring through it, not because I knew him as a child, but because it’s a strong book boldly told, engaging and compelling. Here is my Amazon/Goodreads review of this tale of crime and punishment:

Orange may be the new black, but a long-term federal prison sentence for drug smuggling and conspiracy is not a heart-warming soap opera drama. It’s hard time with hard cases and there are no two ways about it. It’s natural to compare this novel with that autobiographical tele-drama, and to come to the conclusion that both are equally worthy, both equally compelling and revealing. Stoney Places, in contrast to Orange, does not tell the story of a naive young person who did a silly thing and was later betrayed by an ex-lover. Quite the contrary. In Stoney Places, the protagonist, Hardwick Graves, knew exactly what he was doing for many years, and exactly what he could expect to befall him someday. He did it anyway. It was his life, his lifestyle, his choice, and the book is not laden with regrets or any self-pity whatsoever. It’s a clear-eyed narration told ice-cold and straight-ahead, in beautiful writing about ugly times and places. Highly recommended.

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