In Baskin’s debut thriller, a prison psychiatrist becomes a patsy for a white supremacist gang leader looking for a way out of jail.
Dr. Jojo Black sees his new job at Wampanoag State Hospital, run by the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, as a definite challenge. He’d make more money in a private psychiatric practice, but he prefers working with criminals despite the fact that his first patient at WSH nearly attacks him for not providing him with oxycodone. Jojo’s predecessor boils the job down to separating the truly mentally ill inmates from those who are simply faking it, because the state hospital is considered a vacation compared with maximum security. Hard-to-read patient Lester Manson, leader of the white supremacy group White Dawn, resides in the high-security unit known as “the Shoe.” Jojo thinks that Lester seems “pleasant and calm,” contrary to his own boss’s warnings. But soon after Jojo settles into a routine and starts dating social worker Margot, the trouble begins. Lester persuades Margot to sneak him a cellphone, and he uses this criminal act to blackmail Jojo into doing his bidding. At first, the psychiatrist merely ensures that a few select inmates remain at the hospital. But as rumors of a gang war heat up (White Dawn vs. Los Reyes), some people outside WSH, including a U.S. Marshal, confront Jojo, convinced that he’s helping Lester plan a prison break. In the end, the psychiatrist may have to choose between telling the truth or aiding in Lester’s escape. Baskin’s novel has a worthy buildup before spinning off into a gleefully complex conspiracy. There are numerous characters with agendas: some want Lester free, some want him to stay right where he is, and others apparently want him dead. The tale is suspenseful right from the opening, which shows Jojo in the middle of a prison riot before flashing back to his relatable first-day jitters. Still, the book’s villain isn’t quite the mastermind that other characters make him out to be; Jojo’s boss, for example, asserts that Lester can get into a seasoned clinician’s head, but what he actually does is less manipulation than basic intimidation, sometimes involving physical threats. On the plus side, Jojo comes across as a smart man who, despite his stumbles, isn’t as naïve as some suggest.
A slow immersion into chaos that’s torture for the protagonist but sheer enjoyment for readers.