cover image Projection


Keith Russell Ablow. Pantheon Books, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44212-7

Distinguished plastic surgeon Trevor Lucas may not be guilty of the four murders he stands accused of, as Ablow's gruesome psychological thriller opens, but he has clearly lost his mind, claiming that his right arm is controlled by Satan. Frank Clevenger, hero of Ablow's first novel, Denial, and consulting forensic psychiatrist to the Massachusetts police, is well aware of Lucas's innocence, since he framed him to save their mutual lover, the pathologically jealous but pitiable Kathy Matheson. Kathy's four victims were Lucas and Clevenger's other sexual partners, including the woman who was Frank's real love, but he sees Kathy only as a victim, since she was raped by her father as a child. When Lucas takes control of the hospital ward where he is being held, cuts off his arm and begins mobilizing the criminally insane inmates to assist him in vivisecting their fellow patients and members of the hospital staff, Clevenger makes a foray into the grisly ward and convinces the state police to hold off their assault on the hospital for 24 hours so he can delve into Lucas's past to discover the roots of his trauma. Astonishingly, the cops agree, and Clevenger is off to Baltimore, Lucas's hometown. Along the way, ponytailed Clevenger scores heroin, falls in love with a prostitute and continues to affirm that criminals with difficult childhoods are not responsible for their actions. Pockmarked with paeans to the spiritual and evangelical powers of modern psychotherapy, the narrative leaps from one far-fetched scene to the next as Ablow erects the thin framework for a tale lavishly laced with sex and violence. Loose ends dangle at the conclusion, suggesting that this may not be the last readers hear of the adventures of the troubled Dr. Clevenger. (Sept.) FYI: Forensic psychiatrist Ablow is a practicing psychiatrist specializing in violence.