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 Reviews: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes and Surrounded by Witnesses by Jeff Foster

hidden-bodiesHidden Bodies
Caroline Kepnes
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8562-2
Hardcover

Joe, narrator and protagonist of this turbulent novel is arrogant, smart, clever and well educated. He is also misogynistic, athletic, immoral, talented and a serial killer. As an adept seducer of women, he travels the nation, expounding on his distorted philosophy, scamming various people and murdering those who get in his way, often for the flimsiest of reasons. He is an extremely engaging modern character.

The story begins in a New York bookstore and ends in a California lockup. In between, Joe rambles both physically and intellectually about the human condition, about relationships and about what he should do next. And he pursues a distorted nihilistic philosophy of life that leads him into a morass of morally questionable actions that take place in often unusual and well-described locations. Yet he is a charmer and as pursued by his chronicler, author, Caroline Kepner, he is successful in persuading a great many people to buy at least some of his arguments and actions.

Of course, it is the skill and talent of the author that helps persuade us to continue to pay attention to this most reprehensible of characters and to give his oft-times hare-brained philosophizing serious consideration. A well-conceived, finely written effort that somehow seems peculiarly relevant in today’s world.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

surrounded-by-witnessesSurrounded By Witnesses
Jeff Foster
North Star Press, January 2007
ISBN: 978-0-87839-258-0
Trade Paperback

The novel has an interesting premise: a Muslim terrorist scout team is heading for the middle of the middle west in order to set up some kind of attack. They travel as a family and with typical short-view planning, come down from Canada into the Upper Midwest during the height of winter. This of course means blizzards, disruption of timing and attendant growing rage from the family’s controllers.

The novel centers on the family’s interaction with an intensely rural Minnesota family of taciturn Scandinavians. Swede and Heidi and their children are the epitome of type. Manifold difficulties rise to hamper the progress of the terrorist unit toward their intended target. The novel is replete with high tech maneuvering which at times gets in the way of human interaction and the pace of the novel.

I was bothered by the remote language of the narration, disconcerting shifts of points of view and a few clichéd characters. That said, the story line is interesting, but at 330 pages, this trade paper novel could have benefited from some judicious editing. At times the language including the dialogue is stilted and awkward. Those caveats aside, this is an enjoyable novel, worth a few hours of leisure.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.