Do you play chess? I don’t, more of a tic-tac-toe aficionado TBH. But I’ve always admired the ability to think 10 moves ahead when faced with a worthy opponent. Here we have 2 well matched MC’s, each with a plan & motive that may end up being their downfall.
Alicia Berenson used to be one half of a glamorous couple. She was a beautiful, successful artist deeply in love with her husband Gabriel. Which of course begs the question…why did she shoot him in the face 5X? You’ll have to come to your own conclusions because Alicia’s not talking. At all.
Not to the police & not to her lawyer during a well publicized trial. Her cool, silent demeanor earned her a verdict of diminished capacity plus a spot at The Grove, a secure psychiatric facility in London. Several years on nothing much has changed. Despite the best efforts of medical staff, Alicia remains mute. But one man believes he can get her to tell her story & he’s about to get his chance.
Dr. Theo Faber followed the trial with interest. As a criminal psychotherapist, he became fascinated with the beautiful woman who wouldn’t speak. So when a job comes up at the Grove, Theo jumps at the chance to treat its most famous resident. Pull up a chair, dust off the chess board & let the games begin.
There are many secondary characters that add depth to the story. Some pop up briefly, several have recurring roles & others lurk in the background. Each brings something to the table, even in their absence. But make no mistake…this is the Alicia & Theo Show.
Alicia is an enigma from the start. In the present, she is a shadow of her previous self. But through her thoughts & memories, we begin to put flesh on her bones as we learn about her childhood & subsequent relationship with Gabriel. Friends & colleagues chime in with their observations & put a slightly different slant on her perfect life. Whatever your impression of her, one thing is clear…her voice may be lost but there is absolutely nothing wrong with her mind.
It’s up to Theo to carry the conversation during their regular sessions. And initially he’s more than up for the task. It’s not just about the professional satisfaction of helping a damaged soul. He’s well aware his colleagues have tried & failed to reach Alicia. If he can get her to speak, it would mean validation of his abilities & a huge feather in his cap. As time goes by, we watch as he becomes obsessed with cracking his famous patient & desperation leads to questionable judgement on his part. You begin to wonder if its a quest for professional glory or a classic case of hubris.
From the opening pages I knew that even if this was a poorly written hot mess (it’s not), I would read to the final page because I had to understand why Gabriel was snuffed in such convincing fashion. It’s one of those books where it’s best to go in blind. Although this is a first novel, the author has written screen plays & it definitely shows in the expert pacing & story telling. I can easily imagine this as a film. I had my suspicions about Gabriel’s death but the motive is only revealed near the end. And what an end it is. There’s something really satisfying about a character getting what they so karmically deserve. If you’re a fan of psychological suspense, don’t hesitate to add this to your groaning TBR pile.