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Craig Clevenger, Author THE CONTORTIONIST'S HANDBOOK

Clevenger's debut novel is a well-crafted but underplotted character study of a brilliant, damaged man who struggles with mental illness and substance abuse as he bounces in and out of prison and a series of hospitals around Los Angeles. Most of the novel takes place in the latter setting; some tense early scenes pit protagonist John Dolan Vincent against a psychiatrist known as "The Evaluator," who probes Vincent's psyche to see if his recent overdose of muscle relaxants was really a botched attempt to cure his migraine, as Vincent claims, or a suicide attempt. The twist is that Vincent has checked into the hospital under an assumed name; after each of his previous overdoses he has changed his identity to avoid being placed in a mental hospital. The psychiatric interview provides a decent vehicle for telling the story of Vincent's difficult family life and his decision to use his mathematical talent to assist a murky criminal network. The trouble is that Clevenger has little to offer to push his story forward besides Vincent's efforts to protect Keadra, the woman he falls in love with during a hospital stint, from the thugs who are trying to track him down. Clevenger is a solid writer who does some good work when it comes to creating a noirish atmosphere and smart, compelling characters, but the pace is uneven at best. The quality of the writing warrants a follow-up effort; hopefully, Clevenger will know what to do with his characters the next time around. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/26/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-4332-9822-6
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Paperback - 199 pages - 978-1-931561-48-8
Compact Disc - 978-1-4332-9821-9
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