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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Uncaged by Joe Gazzam (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order the book HERE 
Read an excerpt HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joe Gazzam was born in Baltimore, MD, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, FL and graduated from the University of Florida. Soon after college he moved to Los Angeles with one script under his arm, never having been to California in his life. Since then, due to good luck and the support of friends and family, he’s been a working screenwriter for 8 years.

Joe has since worked on such films as: 21 Jump Street, Barbarella, Step Up: Revolution, Disney’s Hawaiian Adventure, It Takes a Thief, Anubis Tapestry and many more. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and son.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Jason Holden has been skating on thin ice since his mother died. If there’s a rule to break, he’s broken it. Naturally his behavior isn’t winning him any points with his father, who just happens to be the state governor. When Governor Holden learns about a program for troubled youth, he jumps at the chance to deal with Jason’s impulsive outbursts while cementing his position as political leader known for being tough on crime. Jason doesn’t resent him for killing two birds with one stone. He just resents him.

The program is a radical exercise designed to scare teens into walking away from a life of crime. The other kids in the program are straight from the streets, and it doesn’t take more than a minute for Jason to realize he’s gotten himself in too deep. The program is called “Scared Straight,” and it will take them into the heart of Blackenbush Penitentiary.

Accompanied by prison guards and a documentary crew led by the only woman who’s passed through the gates in years, the six boys find themselves face to face with some of the worst criminals the state has ever seen. The experience has the potential to change them forever. Until everything goes utterly, horribly wrong.

What begins as an exercise for troubled youth becomes a full-out jailbreak. Led by Manning, a serial killer and psychotic genius, the prison is transformed into a hellhole of violence and destruction. Jason’s only hope is escape, but he can’t do that without help. In a prison full of murderers and thieves, he will have to trust in the most unlikely person—a convict with his own body count, a man who came to the prison a thief and stayed there a murderer. Between them, they just might find a way to save their skin.

FORMAT/INFO: Uncaged is 267 pages long divided over thirty-four chapters. Narration is in the third-person, via several characters; Jason Holden, Rix, Governor Daniel Holden, Sasha Shim, Ray Manning, Drake, Marco, captain James Skelly, and a few other minor characters.

October 11, 2013 marked the e-book and paperback publication of Uncaged and it was published by ZOVA Books. Cover design is provided by Matthew Pizzo.

CLASSIFICATION: Think Under Siege meets Nathan's Run in a hot, sweltering Florida Penitentiary.

ANALYSIS: While I love fantasy and all of its iterations, I also love the mystery-thriller genres. So I’m always on the lookout for good ones. Uncaged by Joe Gazzam was a book who had what I like to refer to as a “crackerjack blurb”. After reading the excerpt, I immediately contacted the author who gladly set me up with a review copy and so I finished it in one setting.

The story begins Jason Holden who is a troubled teen due to the recent death of his mother begins to act out with terrifying results. The most recent example being an accident, which marks the end of his line of his father’s patience. His father Daniel Holden is also the state governor of Florida and is clearly under fire for his son’s actions, which spur him onto a radical path for his son’s benefit. Sasha Shim is a psychologist with social services who is roped in to making a documentary about the scared straight program that Jason is forced to take part in. Lastly there’s Rix, an incarcerated prisoner in the Blackenbush Penitentiary who is facing a rather hard time with parole. These are the main POV characters in this this exciting story.

Thus begins the exciting thrill ride that is Uncaged as the readers will be introduced to these characters that have been trapped in unfortunate situations due to their own and others’ actions. What I loved about this story was how the author paced the story beginning from the introduction of the main POV characters, and then just basically lets the story fly off the handle from there. The readers are given their share of heroic, misunderstood and savage characters and most of them are very, very interesting. The plot twists come in throes and while some are predictable, many are simply unexpected and add to the awesomeness of this debut.

Here’s what I loved about the POV characters, one of the main protagonist Jason Holden while being a troubled teenager, doesn’t seem to be annoying. This was a plus point from the author as it’s very difficult to portray troubled teenagers and make them sympathetic at the same time. The author excels at this and so that helps in getting the reader embroiled in Jason’s troubles. Also another intriguing character was Rix as well as the main protagonist, who are shown to men that have perhaps a canny intelligence as well as similar inner strength but interact with others in different ways. For me besides the pace of the story, the characterization was another solid plus point for this debut.

Lastly because a writer with strong roots in screenplays wrote this book, it almost reads like one and it's very easy to imagine it as a movie (this would make an awesome movie with the right director and hopefully little changes to the story). This debut takes all the awesome ingredients of the film “Under Seige” and combines them with the heart-warming aspects of “Nathan’s Run” another fantastic debut thereby giving thriller readers a sensational read.

I didn’t think there were any drawbacks to this story, of course with most thrillers, there has to be some suspension of disbelief and it’s again to the author’s credit that this is held to a bare minimum in this story (in regards to antagonist's plans). So if you can overlook some mild improbabilities then this thriller works wonderfully and will keep the reader riveted till its twisted climax. This book simply is a must buy and must read for all lovers of crackerjack thrillers.

CONCLUSION: One of the best thriller debuts that I've read in the recent years, Uncaged by Joe Gazzam reads like a fast paced thriller movie that is perfectly transcribed for readers. With a wide variety of characters (mostly menacing), this thriller debut is a must read for fans of Jeffrey Deaver, Blake Crouch and Matthew Reilly for its sheer pace, twisted plot and a terrific climax.

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