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Book Reviews   |    

by Jean Hackensmith; Portland, Oregon, Inkwater Press, 2011, 443 pages, $26.95 softcover

Reviewed by Jeffrey L. Geller, M.D., M.P.H.
Psychiatric Services 2012; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.631206
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Dr. Geller, who is the book review editor, is professor of psychiatry and director of public-sector psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.

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The novel Checkmate, by Jean Hackensmith, promises to be (per its back cover) “gripping and suspenseful.” The back cover outlines the story as follows: “Caryn Deaver’s abusive ex-husband bound her and their children hand and foot, locked them in the bathroom, and set the house on fire. They managed to escape with their lives, and Dan Hamilton was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the crime. He’s now out. . . .”

Because the reader knows the plot before beginning the book, and because the good guys almost always win, the potential value of this book is in its character development. And that turns out to be the book’s weakest component. I was particularly interested in what sounded like a psychopathic fire-setter—the character Dan Hamilton—and how the novelist portrays his development. I was mostly disappointed.

The action is well developed. The dichotomy of a released prisoner’s torturing of his former family with the intent of killing them all, with the police either standing by or frustrated by their own lack of effectiveness, is portrayed well. Plot manipulations for convenience of the story line are sometimes annoying. But what’s missing here is detail about who these characters are and the dynamics that drive them. By the end of the book, we know little more about Dan Hamilton than we did at the beginning. He is an evil force, but not a person.

If you’re on a beach, taking a long plane ride, or stuck in a ski lodge with a sprained ankle, this is a quick and diverting read. It should have been published as a mass market paperback at no more than a quarter of its current price.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.




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