A convict sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife (who may or may not have been HIV-positive and desperate to die) is on the run with a prison nurse (who may or may not be a willing hostage). She may or may not have aided in his escape; she may or may not be in love with him. Such is the oblique premise of Roderick Anscombe’s thriller Shank, revealed, layer by layer, in letters written by the runaway convict to a Barbara Walters/Oprah Winfrey-esque talk-show host. His pleas for understanding — based on such imaginative prison occurrences as gang rape, cafeteria attacks, and solitary confinement — produce in a reader not empathy but boredom, and the nurse seems more plot device than human being. This is well-trod ground, both psychologically and literarily, and Shank adds little to the genre other than the technical trick of its structure. By the time the truth of what happened is revealed, all interest has been wiped away. C

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