A country-house mystery with a difference: The country house is in the city of Chicago, and most of the suspects are autistic.
Back in the days before pharmacology took over the treatment of mental illness, Dr. Jay Schermerhorn was perhaps the country’s leading expert on the treatment of autism. Hawthorne House, the residential school he founded, was a coveted placement for patients whose families were willing to pay its stratospheric fees in the hope of seeing miraculous improvement in their afflicted children. Now Schermerhorn has returned, elderly, honored, and universally beloved, to preside over a reunion of a dozen of his former patients, including some improbable success stories. But the weekend doesn’t go exactly as planned. As Chicago lies blanketed under a heat wave, Hawthorne House produces one more casualty: its founder, tortured to death in the building’s basement. Lead detectives Emily Folkestone and Ollie Park find to their frustration that even the most highly functioning autistics, like computer engineer Jeffrey Clifford, make both unlikely murderers and uncooperative witnesses. They also find that the good Dr. Schermerhorn was neither the sage nor the saint his press releases described.
D’Amato (White Male Infant, 2002, etc.) offers a fascinating glimpse inside a world few novelists would have the sensitivity to explore, even though the persistent bashing of Bruno Bettelheim and Sigmund Freud will make the killer obvious even to amateur therapists.