I wasn't sure I would be able to connect to a story involving a prison setting and was even reluctant to try. Well, I got over that after the first couple of chapters.
Virgil Skinner spent 14 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He was just exonerated but it comes with strings attached. He's got to go back inside, undercover at another facility, Pelican Bay, to help the Feds dismantle a seriously dangerous gang. Peyton Adams is the prison's chief deputy warden and she's got to keep him safe while he's there without blowing his cover.
Virgil is the penultimate tortured hero! So much of this story takes place outside of the prison while he and Peyton spend some precious time together. For her it's a risky situation as it could put her career in jeopardy but she's drawn to this man who, in spite of all he's experienced has a certain nobility about him. It's an unconventional relationship and one you can't help rooting for while a sense of futility seems to surround them.
I don't want to divulge too much about the story as events unfold rapidly with quite a few twists and turns. Virgil joined a gang called The Crew while in prison and they expect him to continue membership on the outside. When he walks away, they launch a deadly search for him, putting his sister at risk and adding an additional threat to that he's facing going back inside. They are vicious and frightening.
The bottom line
The tension, both sexual and otherwise, is maintained throughout the duration of the story. Virgil is an extremely complex character who is the heart of the book. His relationship with Peyton, at times, is almost as tragic as his life was but is also his redemption as she understands the man inside. There aren't too many moments where your pulse gets to slow down and don't let the prison backdrop deter you. Novak created an authentic, realistic environment that's gritty and daunting but makes it work! Of course, I've now got to finish the trilogy.