29 Oct 2009


The Madman's Tale By John Katzenbach.

When the body of a young female trainee is found brutally murdered in the Nurses' Station of the Western State Mental Hospital, Massachusetts, there is apparently no shortage of suspects - a whole hospital of them. One inmate claims to have seen the killer, whom he will describe only as The Angel.

Twenty years later, Francis Petrel, once a patient at the hospital, writes his account of the events of the murder and its investigation on the walls of his tiny apartment. As he writes he is visited by hallucinations, and by an increasing anxiety at his loosening grip on reality. As he goes deeper and deeper into his story about these events, his own madness returns. He remembers being co-opted into the investigation by Lucy Jones, a driven young profiler who has her own reasons for pursuing this particular killer. But she and Francis face the same conundrum: how does one find a cold-blooded killer masquerading as mad in a world populated by the deranged?

In the end it will come down to Francis. He is the only member of the investigating team capable of recognizing the essential lie that The Angel embodies: for though his acts are those of a madman, he most emphatically is not ......

..... From the inner, front cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): I can no longer hear my voices, so I am a little lost.

The Madman's Tale has two very distinct strands to it - one being the events that took place in a mental institution some twenty years ago and, the second, the memories regarding these events that Francis Petrel, one-time patient, records on his apartment wall. Sound complicated? Not really as the strands, though sometimes combined together in the same chapter, are quite distinct with the present events written in italics as opposed to the rather more common font that is used for the past events.

Reading fiction almost always takes us to a different place, often we need to use our imagination and sometimes suspend disbelief. This book went too far and, never mind suspending disbelief, was almost totally unbelievable - I say almost totally as there were some moments that were all too believable. Take for example the atmosphere within the institution where "Patients were released. Patients came back. A boomerang of madness" and "Cries for help were pretty familiar and often ignored".

Lucy Jones is the profiler/prosecutor who is supposedly in charge of the investigation and yet most of the time seems totally clueless. She arrives at the institution merely presuming that a patient is the guilty party capable of murder, never considering it could, just as well, be a member of staff. Then, helped by no other parties from outside, she chooses patients Francis (C-Bird), Peter The Fireman (one-time arson investigator turned arsonist) and orderlies, who also happen to be brothers, 'Big Black' and 'Little Black' as her team of fellow investigators with Francis, seemingly, the only one capable of following clues despite the fact that Lucy and Peter, to a certain degree, are trained to do so.

As for the ending? If the rest of the book was unbelievable, the author credits his readers with very little intelligence if he expects us to believe the lengths the killer, who by now is revealed, went to in order to track down his 'real' victim.

MY RATING: 2 out of a possible 5. A very disappointing effort, I know you can do better.


Tina said...

Hi, Petty. It's good to see such an honest view of a novel. I'm a fan of good writing in any genre, but do love my crime fiction!
Thanks for dropping by my site. Hope to see you again! Tina

Vivienne said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy this one very much. It is disappointing, especially when you read it all way to the end.

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

Ooh! I have had those reads.... too bad, it sounded like it started out well.

Jenners said...

Too bad it didn't do it for you. It sounded like it could have been promising.