As Keith Ablow's Compulsion opens, we meet Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Frank Clevenger, who is haunted by an encounter two years earlier with a maniacal mental patient (described in grisly detail in Ablow's Projection). This shattering experience has left him weary and disillusioned. Wanting to keep his distance from violence and death, he has sworn off consulting on forensic cases.
Clevenger, a victim of childhood abuse, is a complex character. His list of excesses, including smoking, gambling, drugs, alcohol and rescuing troubled women, could fill a textbook. Attempting to stay sober and sane, he substitutes coffee and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for scotch and cocaine. Never married, his choices in women are questionable, running the gamut from society damsels-in-distress to disrobed dames in seedy strip clubs. Can Clevenger keep his own demons at bay while helping others deal with theirs? Enter the wealthy, socially prominent, politically powerful and profoundly dysfunctional Bishop family of Nantucket. North Anderson, Nantucket's chief of police, enlists Clevenger's help when one of the Bishop's twin babies is murdered. Against his better judgment, Clevenger is drawn into the murder investigation. Thus begins the first link in a violent chain of events as he delves deeper into the Bishop family's disturbing secrets. He risks everything to confront the evil side of human nature. How far can you walk in darkness without losing your way forever? Frank Clevenger is about to find out. Compulsion allows us to explore Frank's psyche, as well as those of the characters he encounters as he attempts to match wits with a psychopath. The protagonist is flawed but driven to deliver justice; the villain is suitably frightening. Ablow's strong characterizations extend to the supporting cast, who are just as complicated and entertaining. The author, a practicing forensic psychiatrist, uses his extensive knowledge of mental illness and violence to lend authenticity to Compulsion, weaving a suspenseful mystery around riveting insights into the criminal mind. This latest addition to the Frank Clevenger series is an engrossing thriller that belongs on your summer reading list. C.
L. Ross reads, writes and reviews in Pismo Beach, California.