cover image THE ANALYST


John Katzenbach, . . Ballantine, $25 (576pp) ISBN 978-0-345-42626-0

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THE ANALYSTJohn Katzenbach. Ballantine, $25 (576p) ISBN 0-345-42626-6

A note left in the waiting room of New York City analyst Dr. Ricky Starks reads, "You ruined my life. And now I fully intend to ruin yours." Katzenbach has previously used the cryptic note as a plot-launching device. From such familiar ground, however, springs one of his strongest outings, a tale of psychological torment and investigative cunning. The note, signed "Rumplestiltskin," goes on to challenge Starks to discover the identity of the letter writer. If Starks can't do it in 15 days, he must either commit suicide or members of his family will start dying. As Starks scrambles to meet the challenge, his life goes into total meltdown. A police detective who promises to help him gets killed by a hit-and-run driver; Starks's savings disappears through mysterious electronic transfers; his apartment is destroyed by a burst water pipe; and his trusted mentor inexplicably turns his back on him. Equally frustrating, Rumplestiltskin seems able to anticipate Starks's every move. Starks, communicating with his tormentor through newspaper personals, comes close to snapping, but steels himself to fake his own death and go deep underground. He vows to leave behind the predictable patterns of his old life, develop a new identity and track down Rumplestiltskin. Katzenbach's narrative touch, nimble and edgy up to this point, only gets sharper as Starks grinds his way toward a gritty finale on Cape Cod. The two-time Edgar nominee (The Shadow Man; In the Heat of the Summer) has potently chronicled a long journey of revenge and redemption. Some of his psychological plot points—particularly the reason for Rumplestiltskin's hatred—are a stretch, but the novel's fine sense of pacing, sudden switchbacks and chilling characterizations far overshadow its minor faults. 5-city author tour; optioned to Phoenix Pictures. (Feb.)