A psychiatrist takes a case that threatens his very identity in this tricky thriller.
David Manne is a shrink in postwar Manhattan who consults on various police cases. Called to a downtown tenement to evaluate a distraught man, he finds a harried but lucid fellow who insists he’s not the person the woman claiming to be his wife, as well as the police, says he is. Manne, bored with his predictable practice and predictable single life, decides to follow up and stumbles into a situation where, as they say, things are not what they seem. Up to this point, Wilcken (The Execution, 2002) has built a unique portrait of '40s New York. Instead of the rush of urban life that’s the usual image of the city, he emphasizes the solitary. The people on the streets and the newspaper hawkers Wilcken describes fall away next to the feeling of being alone in a crowd. Wilcken recasts automats and movie theaters and diners as peculiarly noirish palaces of isolation. Which is what makes it all the more disappointing when Manne winds up in the same condition as his patient, at the mercy of people insisting he’s someone else. Wilcken is trying for the mix of absurdity and hallucinatory threat John Franklin Bardin achieved in his 1946 classic The Deadly Percheron, but the novel's intrigue peters away into sub-Kafkaesque trickery.
Wilcken's novel starts out both welcoming and sinister. Sadly, the identity crisis it most compellingly describes is its own.