"Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is furnace." That is the description by 14-year-old Alex of Furnace, a prison one mile below the surface of the earth. When you are sentenced to Furnace you are sentenced for life. This gripping tale is Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith. In this story we meet Alex, who is arrested after he and a friend are caught during a burglary. However, the police are not your typical law-enforcement officers, as they are clothed all in black. Without any of the requisite procedures, during the arrest they shoot Alex's friend dead in front of him. Alex is taken to court and found guilty of murder. Despite his and his parents' pleas for an appeal he is sentenced to life in prison with no parole. Not just any prison but Furnace, where there are no visitors and no chance of ever getting out.
Alex arrives to find a tough world where survival is a daily concern. He quickly learns that friendships are not part of the Furnace world, and it is every man for himself. Gangs abound, the food is disgusting, and guard dogs tear the inmates apart. Alex quickly learns from his street-smart roommate to keep a low profile and not to draw attention to himself. This is especially the case when, during the night, evil guards manuever through the prison and randomly select the next victim. The victims are taken away and return as killing machines. Alex decides he wants out. So he and his roommate devise a clever escape plan. But it is very risky.
This book is often brutal and gritty. It is a story that moves with such force that it is difficult to put down. The description of a world where brutal gangs run rampant through the community--and the subsequent extreme response by rogue law enforcement--is raw. There are depictions of bad choices made and the consequences that result in a world that we could only imagine. Alexander Gordon Smith does a superb job of inventing an environment that is terrifying and compelling at the same time.