An undercover reporter gets trapped in a state-run mental hospital for the criminally insane.
Ashley “Ash” Roper and his wife own a struggling weekly newspaper in Charleston. Roper, a tough but damaged Army veteran, is constantly on the lookout for his next big story in hopes that a good scoop will save his finances and his rocky marriage. He’s intrigued by mysterious happenings at the Bay Area State Hospital, an institution that houses violent criminals the court system has deemed mentally insane. First, a sympathetic jury releases a BASH patient—a resident, that is—even after he proves dangerous and delusional. Then, another BASH inhabitant escapes before his yearly court hearing. Stories of internal drug trafficking and employee coverups motivate the hospital’s security chief to sneak Roper in, disguised as a patient, for a one-day investigation. But an unexpected incident leaves Roper stuck on the inside, where unruly residents seem to rule in an understaffed, red tape–ridden system. Don’t judge this book by its cartoonish, kitschy cover: Bartos (Why Your Depression Isn’t Getting Better, 2000) raises thought-provoking questions about the treatment of mentally ill felons, the inefficiencies of bureaucracies and officials who protect their own backs above all else when facing an ethical dilemma. Bartos’ sharp writing is fast-paced and packed with detail, though it’s not typo-free and descriptions are occasionally overdone (coffee is “dark brown morning nectar”). Multiple subplots and minor characters populate the book—such as an impending hurricane and the gutsy young newsgirl who predicts it—which ups the drama and keeps the story from being one-dimensional. However, some of the secondary storylines seem dispensable, like the graphic sex scene between two hospital administrators. Also odd is the choice of narrator—a smooth-talking hospital psychiatrist called Doc—since he’s removed from the action for most of the book.
An intriguing premise that casts the bureaucrats and their system as the bad guys.