This novel lays bare the mind of a sociopath whose accomplishments, normal life, and respected position disguise his true nature.
At 34, cardiologist Jeremy Balint is the youngest head of any medical division at his hospital. Married and the father of two daughters, his princesses, whose welfare he values above all else, Balint is stunned to find evidence of his wife Amanda’s infidelity with Warren Sugarman, a hospital colleague. Amanda handles every practical detail of household management on top of her nearly full-time job, and Balint doesn’t know how to manage life without her. As an adult, he’s always done right. Now, he realizes, “playing by the rules was for losers.” If he could murder Sugarman without getting caught, he would—and why should an intelligent man like him get caught? Balint develops a careful plan, designed to ensure getting away with murder, that will entail multiple victims. To further settle the score, he pursues an affair with a beautiful nursing student. Over months, Balint makes his preparations, murders victims, and enjoys his affair. Meanwhile, his career—and his reputation as an ethical man—grows. He feels no guilt; after all, he’s safeguarding his daughters’ futures. But Balint’s actions affect his marriage in a way he doesn’t expect, and the novel ends with a hint that his mask has slipped. Appel (The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, 2016, etc.), a physician, attorney, and bioethicist, avoids glamorizing his sociopath or wallowing in blood-bath crimes. Instead, this is a thoughtful, subtle dissection of how a certain kind of sociopath, found “in the highest echelons of power,” operates. Perhaps what Appel does most interestingly is to show how Balint fails to understand himself or how others see him. He’s astonished to learn that everyone at the hospital knows of his affair; he believes he loves his daughters, but it’s clear they’re only narcissistic extensions, “the guardians of his image after his death. Balint had “lived his entire adult life as an upstanding citizen”— but a horrifying event from his childhood reveals this line to be self-justifying spin.
Intelligent and chilling.