A forensic psychiatrist asked to evaluate an accused stalker finds himself pulled into a nightmare in which nothing is what it seems—maybe not even himself.
Most people who violate restraining orders face serious trouble. But Craig Cavanaugh is a Harvard undergraduate whose financier/philanthropist grandfather is so wealthy and powerful that his prince faces nothing more menacing than Paul Lucas of the Sanders Institute. Egged into taking the case by a boss who hints that his latest grant application might hang in the balance, Paul is soon screaming for the exit. A dicey interview with his patient ends badly when he overreacts to Craig’s cool needling about his wife Abby and their infant son Adrian, killed in a car crash, and Sanders security responds with condign force. Then Paul’s imprudent meeting with Natalie Davis, the Harvard teaching assistant who’s complained that Craig just won’t accept a polite brush-off, deepens his danger when it’s witnessed by Craig, who’s convinced his shrink is moving in on his girl. Paul’s struggles to get off the hook only get him more deeply embroiled with Craig, and on the young man’s release from Sanders, Paul’s committed to seeing him every week, legally responsible for his behavior but powerless to control it. All the while he’s dropping hints about having broken into Paul’s house and acquainted himself with his most intimate secrets, Craig is plotting more serious revenge. And once his devious plan becomes clear, even to benighted Paul, the therapist’s only hope is to act like a sociopath himself. The finale, which places the four armed leading characters in a dark basement demanding each other’s trust, is hair-raising.
Along with the steadily mounting tension, Anscombe (Shank, 1996, etc.) provides enough exquisitely turned therapeutic dialogues between participants ferally skilled in talking around the point to create a heaven for connoisseurs of mind games.