Testing the Prisoner
Phil Giunta
Raging Seas Press (September 18, 2023)
Reviewed by Carson Buckingham

Daniel Masenda is haunted. He hasn’t always been—it’s a recent development and began just before his mother, whom he hasn’t spoken to in 14 years, dies and he goes home for the funeral. There, the bad old days are brought to the fore in his mind as he runs into all the folks that either abused him or knew about it and did nothing. And traveling on those feelings of resentment and hatred is a demon who looks very much like him, but so much more horrific. He is also haunted by a little boy who looks like him when he was a child.

They are fighting for his soul—but Daniel is the one who will have to decide which way things go.

This is the easiest reading you’ll ever do. Giunta’s seamless writing style allows the reader to slip right into his work like putting on a favorite flannel shirt—it is that comfortable.

But Testing the Prisoner is so much more brilliant than just a terrific piece of fiction. It’s about the crossroads that we all eventually end up at and the decisions we make when we get there. The book takes an old trope and imbues it with complexity and new life. It is a remarkably unique approach on the “choose between good and evil” plot.

The character development is masterfully done, with character growth of not only the protagonist, but almost every single character in the story, and you will come away, after going through hell with the characters, gaining a huge amount of understanding and genuinely liking all of them…except the evil guy, of course—and this evil guy just plain isn’t redeemable.

I think the reason this book is so easy to get into and easier to continue with is the fact that the plot highlights the trauma, psychological chaos, and human feet of clay that makes it so relatable, even though it is about child abuse and letting go of hatred toward the abusers. Being a victim myself, though initially bothered by similarities to my childhood through some strongly-written abuse scenes, I stayed with it and am happy to report that this book turned out to be one of the most uplifting novels I have read in a very long time. If you have been a victim, it might do you good to read it. I found that, after I did, I was able to let go of a large negative burden that I’d been carrying for years… so thank you, Mr. Giunta. For your writing to be able to do that—to cause readers to step back and take inventory of their own lives and to improve them by acting on what they see is nothing short of miraculous.

And it’s a damned good ghost story, too.

5 stars is usually my top rating, but this one gets 6. I couldn’t possibly recommend it more highly.

You can thank me later.

About Carson Buckingham

Professionally, Carson Buckingham has made her way in life doing all manner of things, most of which involve arson. She is currently employed as a freelance writer on a work release program. In her spare time, she studies forensics, in hopes of applying her new knowledge to eluding the authorities more effectively the next time. She is originally from Connecticut, but now resides in Kentucky—and Connecticut is glad to be rid of her.