Like author Zachary Lazar, the unnamed journalist narrator in Vengeance is introduced to the Louisiana Penitentiary at Angola when he goes to watch the inmates rehearse and produce the passion play The Life of Jesus Christ. During his time at this former slave plantation, now a maximum-security prison, he befriends Kendrick King, a young man serving a life sentence for a murder he claims he did not commit.

The journalist's interest in King's case leads him to investigate the crime and King's life. He interviews members of the young man's family, reads news stories and pores over case reports. The complexity of the case becomes evident the more the narrator learns, presenting possible scenario after possible scenario, but rarely any definitive answers.

Lazar (I Pity the Poor Immigrant) blurs the lines of reality and imagination in this captivating, provocative novel that reads like nonfiction. The stark depiction of Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, strikes the reader with such force that the sting leaves an emotional mark. The black-and-white of good and bad, right and wrong, meet head-on, and a muddy gray oozes out. The narrator, whose father was murdered by a contract killer, then realizes: "I believe that something could have been done to prevent it, I don't believe that anything could have been done to rectify it."

Vengeance is empathetic without being sentimental in the treatment of its characters, both in and outside the walls of the prison. Lazar's novel is a beautiful specimen of storytelling while simultaneously challenging its audience to reach deep and question the very core of their beliefs. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

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