Paranoia and politics intertwine in this sometimes perceptive, sometimes overwrought thriller.
At the center of the narrative are Martin Ritter, a hot-shot psychology student plagued by hidden insecurities, and his patient John Gerard, who rants under hypnosis about his plan to impose a fascist regime on America. Martin is relieved when the menacing Gerard ends treatment, then appalled when he resurfaces as the charismatic presidential candidate of the populist American Freedom Party. With the help of a muckraking journalist, Martin learns that the AFP is backed by a sinister â€œNew Millenium Consortium” of billionaires that seek â€œa Financial Oligarchy to replace our three branches of government,” not realizing that Gerard plans to betray them and implement his own Hitler-like agenda once in power. Martin finds himself in the thick of the conspiracy, and obtains compromising documents that might derail Gerard’s career. But the skullduggery is often a side show to Martin’s own emotional â€œhobgoblins,” prompted by a drinking problem, an abusive, now-institutionalized father and testy relations with his Jewish fiancÃ©e and her disapproving family. Jaffe, a psychology professor, draws a sharply observed, often hilarious portrait of clinical psychology, as Martin and his colleagues jockey for status, subtly manipulate patients and wrestle with their own issues. The story is, at one level, a deftly fictionalized debate between psychoanalysis and cognitive therapy. The clichÃ©d conspiracy theory, however, is less convincing. The author attempts to analyze the psychopathology of both totalitarianism and capitalism, but succeeds mainly in demonstrating that conspiracy theories are, in fact, crazy.
Nonetheless, Martin is an unusual and appealing hero for a political thriller. Outwardly deploying the therapist’s earnest, rationalistic aplomb, inwardly bubbling with neurotic self-consciousness, he seems like Woody Allen stuck in a remake of The Manchurian Candidate.