HEADHUNTER by Timothy Findley


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 Joseph Conrad's Kurtz as a nightmare headshrinker? The analogy pays off if you stay with this Canadian thriller, but first you have to make it through an obstacle course of intolerably digressive subplots. Schizophrenic spiritualist Lilah Kemp, reading Heart of Darkness at the Metropolitan Toronto Library, sees Kurtz depart from page 92 and walk out; soon he's ensconced as the monstrous head of the Parkin Psychiatric Institute. As Lilah waits in anguish for a Marlow to emerge and do battle with him, Dr. Austin Purvis, a Parkin psychiatrist, wonders what's become of a mysterious patient who changed his name from Adam Smith to Smith Jones to X before disappearing. Meanwhile, Purvis' colleague Dr. Eleanor Farjeon struggles to make sense of a blight that's left eight young patients terror-stricken and mute; another patient, Warren Ellis, becomes the center of a plot to manipulate a research grant from the Beaumorris Corporation; photographer John Dai Bowen's Club of Men continues to recruit boys willing to submit to the members' gaze and Bowen's lens; and mystery man James Gatz moves into a neighborhood that is now home to a Boston psychiatrist named, yes, Dr. Charles Marlow. Death squads of exterminators battle starlings spreading the sinister plague of sturnusemia, and Amy Wylie, a poet obsessively opposed to the exterminations, is committed to Parkin. Kurtz turns out to have a hand in every one of these intrigues, but you may weary of a cast as large (but not as compelling) as any in a George Eliot novel before you find out how. Findley (The Telling of Lies, 1988, etc.) presents a punishingly ambitious portrait of the psychiatrist as contemporary antichrist, but neither Kurtz nor Marlow finally comes to life in his resurrection. You'll finish this recklessly overscaled novel, if you finish at all, with a profound sense of relief.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-517-59827-2
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994


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