The Mask of Sanity
Jacob M. Appel
Permanent Press, March 2017
From the publisher: On the outside, Dr. Jeremy Balint is a pillar of the community: the youngest division chief at his hospital, a model son to his elderly parents, fiercely devoted to his wife and two young daughters. On the inside, Dr. Jeremy Balint is a high-functioning sociopath – – a man who truly believes himself to stand above the ethical norms of society. As long as life treats him well, Balint has no cause to harm others. When life treats him poorly, he reveals the depths of his cold-blooded depravity. At a cultural moment when the media bombards us with images of so-called “sociopaths” who strive for good and criminals redeemed by repentance, The Mask of Sanity offers an antidote to implausible tales of “evil gone right.” In contrast to fictional predecessors like Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov and Camus’ Mersault, Dr. Balint is a man who already “has it all” – – and will do everything in his power, no matter how immoral, to keep what he has.
The author’s Foreward lets us know immediately the source of the title phrase: “I have come to know a number of individuals who wear . . . ‘The Mask of Sanity,’ yet at their cores proved incapable of feeling empathy or compassion for their fellow human beings. . . Only recently, especially as a result of the exposure of gross misdeeds in the financial services industry and of large-scale Ponzi schemes, has the public become aware that many amoral individuals lurk in the highest echelons of power, be it business, law, and even in medicine. They are all around us, smiling and perpetrating evil.” Himself an attorney, physician and bioethicist, the author obviously knows whereof he speaks. And then he introduces us to Dr. Balint.
Married to his wife, Amanda, for 9 years, and with two daughters he adores, at 47 he has just been appointed chief of cardiology, the youngest in the hospital’s history to have that distinction. He has known the man he now discovers to be his wife’s lover is a man with whom he attended Columbia and then medical school, and is now a transplant surgeon at the same hospital as he. He becomes obsessed with killing the man. And not getting caught. “Inevitably, avoiding detection meant selecting additional targets.”
Not a page-turner in the usual sense of the word (i.e., taut suspense), the plot nonetheless pushes the reader to keep reading to see how it will unfold, and I rather unexpectedly found myself unable to put it down, consuming the novel in less than 36 hours. The final page will leave you, as it did me, startled, if not shocked, and saying “WHAT??”
This is a novel that grabs the reader from the first page and doesn’t let go. It is, obviously, highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2017.