Book Review: The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M. Appel

The Mask of Sanity
Jacob M. Appel
Permanent Press, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-57962-495-8
Hardcover

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.

Book Review: The Other Widow by Susan Crawford—and a Giveaway!

the-other-widowThe Other Widow
Susan Crawford
William Morrow Paperbacks, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-236289-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Everybody’s luck runs out. This time it could be theirs . . .

It isn’t safe. That’s what Joe tells her when he ends their affair—moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage. Dorrie has always been a good actress, pretending to be someone else: the dutiful daughter, the satisfied wife, the woman who can handle anything. Now she’s going to put on the most challenging performance of her life. But details about the accident leave her feeling uneasy and afraid. Why didn’t Joe’s airbag work? Why was his car door open before the EMTs arrived? And now suddenly someone is calling her from her dead lover’s burner phone. . . .

Joe’s death has left his wife in free fall as well. Karen knew Joe was cheating—she found some suspicious e-mails. Trying to cope with grief is devastating enough without the constant fear that has overtaken her—this feeling she can’t shake that someone is watching her. And with Joe gone and the kids grown, she’s vulnerable . . . and on her own.

Insurance investigator Maggie Brennan is suspicious of the latest claim that’s landed on her desk—a man dying on an icy road shortly after buying a lucrative life insurance policy. Maggie doesn’t believe in coincidences. The former cop knows that things—and people—are never what they seem to be.

As the fates of these three women become more tightly entwined, layers of lies and deception begin to peel away, pushing them dangerously to the edge . . . closer to each other . . . to a terrifying truth . . . to a shocking end.

I think one of the pitfalls of focusing a story on infidelities and their consequences is that it’s difficult to feel much empathy for the adulterers and I did, indeed, have a distinct lack of connection with Dorrie and the dead Joe. Besides the issue of what they’re doing to their families, you have to wonder why people in such a situation would rather follow such an unproductive path than either end their unhappy marriages or try to repair whatever is wrong. Certainly having an affair solves nothing.

Dorrie puzzled me, too, because of her immediate response to the accident. Blind panic sets in, largely because she’s so afraid of being found out and that’s understandable if weak, but she seems to be so unaware of the evidence she left behind. Still, I did sympathize with her to a point, kind of even more than Karen, Joe’s wife who studiously ignored all the signs and has her own secrets. Not knowing about a spouse’s affair is one thing; pretending it doesn’t exist is something else.

The character that really meant something to me is Maggie, the insurance investigator who becomes involved because of the large policy on Joe. This is a woman with a lot of baggage but she’s also intriguing with her background in the military and law enforcement. Her intelligence and sense of something being wrong are what made me want to keep reading, to go along with her as she searched for the truth behind Joe’s death.

Generally speaking, the plot was a bit clunky and had a few too many threads but, on the whole, I wanted to stick with it because I did want to know what really happened and how things would be resolved, plus there were a number of leads to follow to get there. While the ending left a few things hanging and some of the characters were unlikeable, The Other Widow is an interesting read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

HarperCollins // Barnes & Noble // Kobo

Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

susan-crawfordSusan Crawford grew up in Miami, Florida, and graduated from the University of Miami with a BA in English and a minor in psychology. She later moved to New York City and then Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three daughters and work in the field of adult education. A member of the Atlanta Writers Club and the Village Writers, Susan teaches at Georgia Piedmont Technical College and dabbles in local politics. She lives with her husband and a trio of rescue cats in Atlanta, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Find out more about Susan at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Follow the tour:

Tuesday, December 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, December 7th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, December 8th: Books and Bindings

Friday, December 9th: A Literary Vacation

Monday, December 12th: A Bookworm’s World

Tuesday, December 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, December 14th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Friday, December 16th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, December 19th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, December 21st: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, December 22nd: FictionZeal

Wednesday, December 28th: Laura’s Reviews

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TLC Book Tours Button

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To enter the drawing for one of two print
copies of The Other Widow, leave a
comment below. The winning names will
be drawn Friday evening, December 9th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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