by Dana I. Wolff
Publication date: Ebook May 3, 2016; paperback July 5, 2016
Category: Suspense/horror with history of science
Summary (from the publisher):
FOUR DECADES AFTER TYPHOID MARY WENT TO HER GRAVE, FIVE CURIOUS GRADUATE STUDENTS STRUGGLE TO ESCAPE ALIVE FROM THE ABANDONED ISLAND THAT ONCE IMPRISONED HER. CONTAGION DOESN’T DIE. IT JUST WAITS.
In the Hell Gate section of New York’s East River lie the sad islands where, for centuries, people locked away what they most feared: the contagious, the disfigured, the addicted, the criminally insane.
Here infection slowly consumed the stricken. Here a desperate ship captain ran his doomed steamship aground and watched flames devour 1,500 souls. Here George A. Soper imprisoned the infamous Typhoid Mary after she spread sickness and death in Manhattan’s most privileged quarters.
George’s great-granddaughter, Karalee, and her fellow graduate students in public health know that story. But as they poke in and out of the macabre hospital rooms of abandoned North Brother Island—bantering, taking pictures, recalling history—they are missing something: Hidden evil watches over them—and plots against them.
When death visits Hell Gate, it comes to stay.
As darkness falls, the students find themselves marooned—their casual trespass having unleashed a chain of horrific events beyond anyone’s imagination.
Disease lurks among the eerie ruins where Typhoid Mary once lived and breathed. Ravenous flies swarm puddles of blood. Rot and decay cling to human skin. And spiteful ghosts haunt the living and undead.
Soon five students of history will learn more than they ever wanted to know about New York’s foul underbelly: the meaning of spine-tingling cries down the corridor, of mysterious fires, of disfiguring murder, and of an avenging presence so sinister they’d rather risk their lives than face the terror of one more night.
The Prisoner of Hell Gate hooked me with an original history of science premise. Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant working as a cook in turn-of-the-century New York. A survivor of typhoid fever herself, she was an asymptomatic carrier of the deadly bacteria. Because of poor sanitation and her work in the kitchen, she inevitably caused outbreaks of typhoid in the homes where she was employed. In the pre-antibiotic era there was no cure for her condition. When she stubbornly refused to give up her work as a cook, a public health officer named George Soper tracked her down and had her sent to quarantine, where she spent the rest of her life.
Author Dana I. Wolff takes this compelling true story and asks, what if Mary Mallon were still alive, somehow lingering on the now-abandoned island in New York’s East River? What if a descendant of the man who imprisoned her came into her clutches?
In general terms, the setup of this novel is horror cliche. A group of young people are stranded on a creepy island. They’re stalked by a killer. The girls are even wearing swimsuits.
But The Prisoner of Hell Gate is no cheesy slasher tale. Written with literary flair and superb characterization, this chilling, elegant horror story is a delight. Though the final destination of the plot may not be in doubt, the journey is a gripping escalation of tension in the finest horror tradition, with psychological twists to boot. Wolff’s use of the present tense, while slightly disorienting at first, gives the story a happening-right-now urgency. His use of language and description are decidedly more literary than genre fiction. This is horror for readers who appreciate good writing.