Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale

Almost without fail, when being chased in a horror movie, the characters run up the stairs*. I’ve never understood this. They must know that they’re trapping themselves. Or if they are running in the woods, the crazed killer is strolling behind them like he has all the time in the world, and he always catches the poor, sprinting, soon to be dead people – with ease. Every time. And yet I still watch.

I sometimes feel the same way about horror novels. Even when written by Joe R. Lansdale.

(This is not a criticism.)

Let’s keep this short and sweet. My brother gifted me this wonderful little novel – Prisoner 489 – for Christmas. I’m now fully ashamed it took me this long to read it. It’s that good – beautifully illustrated too (if one can call such illustrations beautiful…(the human body is art, I suppose)).

Cover design

There are two islands in an undisclosed location. One holds a prison designed by the United Nations to hold the world’s most evil criminals. The other holds their dead bodies once they’ve been executed. On the island that serves as the graveyard live three men. Their lives run as smoothly as grave diggers lives usually run – until they get a new prisoner. Number 489. They stuff of legends. Or rumors, at the very least. Rumor has it the prisoner never ate. Rumor has it he beat one man to death with the leg he ripped off of another man. Rumor has it he was found buried in a wall. Rumor has it…you get the idea. 489 is evil. And quite possibly inhuman, if the rumors are to be believed.

And the three men don’t believe the rumors. Which, if you’ve read a horror novel or two (or watch a horror movie or two), you know is the wrong option. Believe the rumors. They are there to teach you a lesson. Learn it if you want to survive. Let’s just say not everyone learns it.

(This is not a spoiler, right? A novel would not be genre horror if everyone lived…)

Lansdale has produced another (see here, here, and here) excellent piece of fiction. The man just can’t seem to help himself, which is alright with me. Prisoner 489 is a gritty, traditional gothic tale for those who like a solid, spooky story. I’d like to think this is for everyone, but some of my favorite people scare easily. That’s okay too. I will, if only through the interwebs, hold your hand as you read this one. Because you should read this one. 5/5.

*Speaking of horror movies, do you ever get annoyed at the girl running up the stairs. I can’t be the only one. I’m a survivor. I’d last 90 minutes in a horror movie (this quiz says so). How long would you make it? Not a horror fan? How about cookies? Everyone loves cookies.*

Salted Oatmeal Cookies
Pair this one with a cookie (a salted, chocolate chip oatmeal cookie from The Pretty Bee, specifically), not only because Bernard eats one in the novella, but because you’ll need something sweet and comforting after this one. Also, salt and chocolate could save the world.


12 thoughts on “Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale

  1. I never watch horror movies and I rarely read horror novels, but you’ve made me want to read this one. It’s not really because I scare easily, I just prefer other things, so I think I’ll look this one up when I’m ready for a good scare.
    I got 75 minutes- I’m the hero’s significant other. Boo.


  2. Oh I wouldn’t last at all. I hate when they think they see or hear something and instead of walking or running in the opposite direction, they head toward the noise or sighting. Bad Idea!


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