In his stunning debut novel, Denial, Keith Ablow took us deep into the workings of the criminal mind. In this electrifying new book he takes us back to that same territory--but with a horrifying new twist. In a psychiatric hospital just outside Boston, Trevor Lucas, a brilliant but psychopathic plastic surgeon on trial for a grisly serial murder, has taken over a locked unit for the criminally insane.
The murderous inmates are holding staff members hostage, and they will die unless Lucas gets what he wants--a meeting with forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger. Clevenger and Lucas have a past--they share a secret that, if revealed, would end Clevenger's career and, quite possibly, his freedom. It's the perfect, diabolical bargaining chip, and Lucas uses it, refusing to negotiate with anyone but Clevenger.
As an army of police, tanks, and helicopters mass outside the hospital, Clevenger enters the locked unit, and the stage is set: two extraordinary men, both doctors, enmeshed in deep conflict that threatens to erupt into mass murder.
Unrelenting, fueled by its characters' ferocious intelligence, Projection is destined to take its place among the classic psychological thrillers.
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From the Back Cover:
A conversation with Keith Ablow, author of Projection
Q: You're a forensic psychiatrist with a heavy case load -- how did you come to start writing fiction, and what keeps you inspired?
A: I wrote fiction for pleasure, even as a child. I can't not write. People fascinate me -- their passions, frailties, dreams. Now that I've listened to the intimate details of literally thousands of people's lives, I want to share what I've learned: that the human spirit is capable of extraordinary things, including empathy, the inexplicable emotional force that allows us to heal one another.
Q: Your fiction makes readers confront a thorny question: what causes people to become evil? How would you answer that question?
A: People are basically good. Bad things happen to them. After evaluating dozens of murderers, rapists, and other violent men and women, I have become convinced that no one is born evil. There is no original sin left in the world. People lose their capacity for empathy and become cruel themselves when their souls are snuffed out as children or young adults.
It's simple: violence is a virus. You catch it from somebody else. That's why capital punishment is so dangerous to society -- it allows murderousness to infect all of us.
Q: Tell us about Projection. What's the significance of the title?
A: The mind unconsciously uses all kinds of psychological defense mechanisms to deflect feelings that are too intense to deal with. Projection is one of those defenses. A person tries to get rid of psychic pain by recreating it in another individual. It's kind of like playing hot potato with a package in plain brown wrapping that happens to be ticking.
In my novel, forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger has to try to stop Trevor Lucas, a plastic surgeon who has become psychotic, from killing the hostages he has taken. Clevenger begins performing a delicate and desperate brand of psychoanalysis on Lucas. But he knows that journeying into Lucas' twisted psyche could easily -- through projection -- strain his own sanity and lead him to begin mirroring Lucas' murderousness. Like I said, violence is a virus.
Q: Trevor Lucas is a great character. Is he based on someone you know, or is
he purely imagined?
A: I know more than one surgeon teetering on the edge of insanity. I'll never tell which one inspired me.
Q: Can you shed some light on the complex dynamic between Frank Clevenger and
Trevor Lucas? What's their history?
A: Clevenger helped guide the police during a serial killing investigation that ended with Trevor Lucas' arrest. The last victim in that run of violence was Clevenger's lover Rachel. To up the ante, Lucas knows a secret about Clevenger that could end his professional life. Suffice it to say that each of these guys has plenty of reason to want the other dead. And that's just the beginning of the story.
Q: Trevor Lucas believes his hand is perpetrating evil against his will, a bizarre phenomenon you describe as "alien hand syndrome." What are the psychological roots of alien hand, and is it treatable?
A: Like other psychotic conditions, alien hand has its roots in the mind splitting off emotions it can't cope with. In Trevor Lucas' case, he can't deal with what happened to him as a kid, so the cauldron of rage boiling in his mind gets funneled into his arm, which he then disowns. It's like, "Hey, I'm not mad about anything, it's just this damn arm keeps killing people."
Is it treatable? Not in one session. But, sure, alien hand can be treated. I've had stranger cases myself. One woman I treated was convinced her kids had been replaced by masquerading doubles and she wanted to kill the impostors. I treated a man who believed his wife was stealing his thoughts and broadcasting them on the evening news. They're both working full-time again and raising their families. The great thing about psychiatry is that, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of really sick people get better.
Q: Imagine that Trevor Lucas walked into your office. As a psychiatrist, how would you approach his case?
A: Lucas? I'd refer him immediately to Frank Clevenger.
Q: Frank Clevenger has battled his own demons. Does this help him see others' struggles more clearly? Or does surrounding himself with troubled minds make him feel less alone?
A: What sort of person would have an untroubled mind in this world? The best analysts I know have been through a bit of personal hell and come back. It makes them resonate with the fractured lives of others. The last thing you want is a psychiatrist who's never needed one. And, sure, once you know (as Clevenger does) that pain is the only thing you can trust in the world, you feel steadier surrounded by people who are suffering -- and honest enough to admit it.
Q: PROJECTION has some terrifying scenes in it. Are you writing about what you witness in your psychiatry practice, or do you create more extreme situations in fiction to educate the reader?
A: I want to challenge readers to find the humanity in characters who initially seem like monsters. So it's important to set the stage for terror. And there is real terror in Projection. I have to say, though, that nothing I've ever written could match the horror of the real-life cases I've testified about. I've seen and heard about cruelty I could never have imagined: A man who removed his live victim's jaw, a man who beheaded dozens of cats, a man who bludgeoned his wife to death and then left the scene to play Lotto with her forged paycheck (later leading the search for her body which was hidden in the basement) -- and on and on and on.
Q: In Projection, when you take the reader into a locked psychiatric unit for the criminally insane you bring into question where the safe haven is, and succeed in blurring the definition of safety and sanity. Is this a comment on society's treatment of the mentally ill?
A: I can tell you that society intends to do very little for the mentally ill. Most psychiatric units don't get a lot done for patients anymore, thanks to HMOs, which are nothing but scams. We medicate people and send them home. We don't get at the roots of their suffering. At the moment, the marketing of psychiatric units as places of healing or "safe havens" is, except in the very best places, a lie.
Q: Your fiction gives voice to your opinions on mental illness and violence. What are your views on the recent tragic violence in schools in this country? What are the root causes of this kind of brutality?
A: The cumulative toll of being exposed to visual media is disconnecting young people from reality. This includes motion pictures, television, and the Internet. Kids are relating emotionally all the time to characters that are not real, responding to computer-generated voices, shooting at animated warriors on-screen that never bleed. This will inevitably make some of them feel nothing when they take a real life. And I believe young, disenfranchised people will increasingly opt for short and dramatic lead roles as killers on the world stage, instead of mundane, real-life roles as decent people.
I think we're at the leading edge of a true epidemic of violence. And we created it.
Q: Using the psychological thriller to enlighten people would seem to be a
difficult goal, and a delicate balance -- is it?
A: It's a little like setting haiku to rock music. You worry whether the audience will hear the lyrics through the music. But I've never seen entertainment and enlightenment as mutually exclusive, and I'm dedicated to marrying the two in everything I write.
Q: What's next for Keith Ablow?
A: More novels. More cases. More time with my one-year-old daughter. If I had any doubt that we're all born with the capacity for goodness, she's erased it. I promise you there isn't a bad seed on the planet.
"Projection is a crime novel like no other. It's a week in the loony bin; it's a psycho tour de force. Keith Ablow has the expertise and an overachiever's grasp. He's got the instincts of a Zen Thomas Harris."
-- James Ellroy, author of L. A. Confidential
"Now the shrinks are doing it, and damned well too. Projection is first-rate fiction: smart, tough and moving."
-- Robert B. Parker, author of Hush Money
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