In Smith’s debut thriller, a psychologist comes to believe that a patient, who claims to have four ghosts in his body, is responsible for a number of deaths.
One of David Summers’ more unusual patients in the Behavioral Care Unit at the South Regional Medical Center is Mark Smith in Room 316. Smith says that his body contains several ghosts who function as a single entity—those of Tom Williams; his brother, William; and each man’s son, Ben and Mike. Certainly it could be psychosis, but Summers soon finds that strange, inexplicable events seems to happen to Smith. One day, the patient seemingly disappears from a secured room; if the security footage is to be believed, he vanished into thin air. Things take a more frightening turn after a doctor dies in an apparent accident: Summers receives an envelope containing an item referencing the death—postmarked the day before it happened. The missing patient then inexplicably returns to the hospital, and more deaths occur, followed by more envelopes. Before long, the doctor concludes that Smith is, in fact, a bona fide collection of ghosts, just as he claims. Not only is Smith somehow behind the deaths, he thinks, but he’s also certain that he’ll kill many more people. The only option, as far as Summers is concerned, is killing Smith, so he concocts a risky plan that involves delving into the histories of the four ghosts. If it works, the doctor could save the world; if not, billions of people could potentially die.
The author impressively retains a sense of ambiguity through this horror novel. The existence of Smith’s ghosts is largely murky, as they could simply be part of the man’s psychological condition. Moreover, Summers acknowledges that he has no proof that his patient is a murderer, and he even generates a few practical theories to explain Smith’s apparent ability to read minds. Despite the story’s shocking and occasionally gruesome deaths, the narrative often has a tongue-in-cheek tone, with nary an expletive in sight. It even teases the upcoming demises of characters, who typically have mere hours left to live. This rather blasé approach, however, makes it hard to sympathize with the victims: a couple murders are even stamped with the impish refrain, “Isn’t life strange?” In the same vein, the dialogue between Summers and his co-worker, psychiatrist Jonathan Stills, or his gynecologist pal, Sam Jackson, mixes expertise with puerility. Summers, for instance, tells Sam of a patient who was “flat-out bat-crap crazy” and hated nearly everyone: “I don’t mean hate like hate. I mean hate like real hate.” Still, Summers is a worthy protagonist whose plan stems from concern for others, and he draws on a recurring Bible verse, John 15:13, for inspiration. His scheme for stopping Smith unravels slowly, although he handles it meticulously. All the while, he admirably ensures others’ safety, persuading at least one person to get far away from him.
A sometimes-flippant tale of puzzling murders bolstered by an amiable, unlikely hero.