In Pfaltz’s (Flash’s Song, 2015, etc.) thriller, a prison psychologist works with an inmate who refuses to speak.
Dr. Eleanor Hartley, head psychologist at a women’s state penitentiary in Virginia, takes on a new patient dubbed “Jane Doe” who is convicted of murdering a drug dealer and a cop. This mysterious woman provokes a series of questions—Why would she kill someone? Why won’t she reveal her name? And why won’t she talk? Eleanor becomes increasingly infatuated with Jane and risks both her marriage and job to save her. The psychologist’s husband, Lewis, feels disconnected from his patient-obsessed wife, and Cory, Eleanor’s best friend, cites this as the reason Lewis cheated. “You don’t see to his needs!” says Cory. “You haven’t for years!” The novel comprises three sections and opens in October 2015. As the narrative unfolds, the reader learns of Eleanor’s relationship with her patients, her crumbling marriage, and Jane’s mysterious silence. In addition to a detailed portrait of Eleanor, Pfaltz introduces a seemingly unrelated plotline that takes place in 2014 and is centered around Sylvie Marshall, an inquisitive volunteer at an animal shelter who suspects foul play by a cop, taking matters into her own hands to get to the truth. Ultimately, the two threads connect in the third act. Eleanor’s progress with Jane fosters a fragile but growing trust and romance between the women. Pfaltz tackles intersecting and diverging subjects—prison life, mental illness, animal cruelty, etc. While engaging, the multiple weighty topics hobble the storytelling. The characters, however, are dynamic, fleshed out with compelling detail. Even minor cast members shine, like Shina Jones, a savvy inmate who tries to regain control over her life by expanding her vocabulary.
Complicated and compelling, but it stumbles navigating several heavy themes.