Tag Archives: schizophrenia

Wild Child

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The Chill of Night: A McCabe and Savage Thriller by James Hayman (Witness Impulse, $11.99, 432 pages)

The setting is Portland, Maine, the month is December and the weather is bitter cold. The tale affords an escape from the everyday world in more ways than one. The main character, Detective Sargent Michael McCabe, has accomplished what many folks only dream about, transplanting himself and his daughter from New York City to a closely knit community away from big-city violence and crime. But has he? A German luxury car abandoned on the Portland Fish Pier for several days contains a frozen body in the trunk. So what happened to the charm and quaintness of the postcard setting, much less the implied safety? It seems evil lurks in the nicest of locales.

After the body is carefully thawed out, the identification is made and the detective work begins. Since most folks know each other around this part of town, McCabe bounces back and forth among his suspects gathering clues while attempting to eliminate suspects. To his credit, Hayman includes Abby, a young woman with schizophrenia, and the only witness to the crime. Without getting on a soapbox or dragging down the story, he develops her character with solid information about her disease which helps to explain her actions. Unfortunately, the policeman on duty when she bursts into the station house has a very hard time believing Abby’s excited ramblings about the murder and dismisses her report as a hallucination. This lack of understanding delays the hunt for the killer and places others in jeopardy.

James Hayman seamlessly picks up from his first mystery novel, The Cutting, with his core characters McCabe, his artist girlfriend Kyra, his 13-year-old daughter Cassie, his ex-wife Sandy and Maggie Savage who is his police partner. Hayman spares a loyal reader from too much catching up by keeping to the tale at hand, providing only pertinent information that confirms the identities of the characters and their relationship to McCabe.

There are plenty of quirky and charming elements to the story that keep it from being maudlin. McCabe has his own form of mental challenge. He’s got an eidetic (perfect) memory which affords the author many opportunities to sneak in a bit of trivia that will delight most readers. On a more philosophical note, McCabe wrestles with his own personal demons and makes real progress toward disengaging from his frustrations with his ex-wife, Sandy. His relationships with Kyra and Cassie progress nicely. These characters and their interactions are compelling enough to merit a sequel.

chill-of-night-back-cover

Well recommended for mystery lovers.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Taut, suspenseful… as dark and sinister as Lehane or Connelly.” Richard Montanari, author of The Killing Room.

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Out of My Mind

The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok (Free Press; $25.00; 305 pages)

When she turned seventy-nine she wrote to tell me that although she was now legally blind she had decided to study medicine:  “I am thinking of going to nursing school…  That way, if I ever get sick or lose my sight completely, I’ll know what to do.”   I found a set of her teeth inside an old eyeglass case.

In The Memory Palace, Mira Bartok writes of a world that, sadly, too many of us will come to experience.   This is the world of the adult child whose parent is not only rapidly aging, but entering the throes of dementia or full-fledged insanity.   Whether caused by disease or mental illness, the results are the same – a parent terrified of having bad things happen to him or her brings those very results about through his or her own irrational behavior.   Bartok’s mother, Norma, was terrified of becoming homeless but became so after stabbing her own mother – who suffered from dementia – six times.

When her two daughters were young girls, Norma was diagnosed as having severe schizophrenia, and it cost her both a husband and a home.   Aside from the illness, Norma was a highly talented classical pianist who might have become a household name.   But it was not to be and Mira and her sister grew up in a hellish home with a mother who heard voices in her head, voices that caused her to lose touch with reality and normalcy.

As anyone who has lived through it knows, once a parent begins acting irrationally, their behavior will inevitably continue to deteriorate.   We no longer seem to have systems in place for properly dealing with the problems of the aged with mental issues.   They may be medicated or locked up for various periods of time (from hours to weeks or months), but they simply do not “get better.”

Bartok is to be commended for writing frankly about an adult daughter’s reaction to this, and it is mixed.   One third of her escaped by thinking back to the times when her mother was seemingly normal – a time before this parent’s rapid descent into madness.   One third of her lived in denial, literally trying to escape by hiding from her mother in Europe and elsewhere.   And the last third consisted of the daughter who sometimes had to take harsh actions against her mother – such as attempting to get a court to declare her incompetent – knowing deep down that the situation would only be resolved (made peaceful) with her mother’s death.

In this account it becomes clear to the reader that although Bartok lived a very difficult life due to her mother’s mental instability, she very much loved her mother and has wrestled with feelings of guilt (“I abandoned my mother to the streets.”).   As a young woman, Bartok was involved in an automobile accident that injured her brain and led to memory problems.   This provided her with a measure of insight into her mother’s faded connections with the world.

“…I go to the church and light a candle for my mother.   Not that I believe it will do any good; it’s just to remind myself that she is still lost in the world.”

By writing this blunt and painstakingly honest account of her mother’s troubled life, Bartok has performed an act of penance.   It is an act of humble penance in which she seeks to forgive her mother for literally losing herself.   It is an act of contrition in which she asks the world to forgive both herself and her mother for leading damaged lives.

This brilliantly written work reminds us that self-examination and self-forgiveness precede forgiving others for their real or imagined wrongs.   It’s a harsh world – a dark ocean – out there and we sometimes need assistance in navigating our way through it.   This memoir tells us that lighthouses exist.

Highly recommended.

“If memory is a palace, let me live there, forever with her, somewhere in the place between sleep and morning.”

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Memory Palace was released on January 11, 2011.

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Coming Up Next…

A preview-review of The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok, which will be released by Free Press on January 11, 2011.

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