A sometimes-flippant tale of puzzling murders bolstered by an amiable, unlikely hero.



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.

Pub Date: July 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5218-1531-1

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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