A man wrongly convicted of murder feigns a mental disorder, giving him time in a psychiatric facility to concoct a scheme for clearing his name, in this debut thriller.
Medical student Dan Greenberg’s rotation at the Northwest Indiana Psychiatric Institution is a far cry from where he ends up—as a resident. When it’s clear that the evidence against him for his girlfriend Melinda Baum’s murder will guarantee Dan a prison sentence, he opts for convincing everyone that he’s a schizophrenic. He’s at the facility for a year before seeing a way out: college friend/medical student Sheri. Using secret correspondence, beginning with napkin notes written in crayon, Dan asks for Sheri’s help. Flashbacks, meanwhile, reveal the days leading up to Melinda’s murder. Dan’s assignment is to diagnose schizoaffective patient Catherine, whose ramblings about people in trouble at various hospitals stoke Dan’s curiosity. Catherine may even be predicting some of these, citing room numbers prior to the admissions. Cat scans of patients Catherine’s named show an irregularity, or an artifact, that’s oddly in an identical spot for each person. Viewing an autopsy, Dan quickly swipes an artifact (a small metal ball), which he then stashes. But soon his mail vanishes, someone seems to be tailing him, and people he’s confided in, including Melinda, turn up dead. Institutionalized Dan, Sheri, and fellow patient Jake formulate a plan of escape to prove Dan’s innocence. The story smoothly alternates between present day and past, generating suspense, for example, with the knowledge of Melinda’s imminent doom. The flashbacks eventually catch up and, on occasion, unnecessarily rehash the plot, like Dan telling his story (which readers already know) to cops, a lawyer, and his parents. But Benator piles on the mystery: Dan and Jake find a professor to examine and hopefully shed light on the metal ball and later track down the person(s) possibly responsible for Dan’s predicament. Characters are engaging all around, with Jake a standout. He may also have pled insane to avoid jail and yet never denies having killed four family members while on a cocktail of psychedelic drugs.
A laudable mystery that starts tangled and slowly unravels—with not one but two twists at the end.