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Book Reviews   |    
Oblivion
Reviewed by Alan D. Schmetzer, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.12.1638-a
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by Peter Abrahams; New York, HarperCollins, 2005, 352 pages, $24.95

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The main character in this detective story, or psychological thriller, is Nick Petrov, a former police detective turned private investigator. The story begins as Petrov concludes his testimony in a trial. His expertise is finding missing people, especially children. Exiting the courtroom, he is retained to find a missing teenaged girl, and for the first eight chapters we follow his methodical sleuthing.

Petrov is bright and meticulously organized-he carries a three-dimensional map in his head. He has classified human expressions into 93 distinct entities, which he can describe by both name and number. He takes all his notes in code. And he actually finds the missing daughter over the course of what becomes a "Lost Weekend," the name of the first segment of the book.

But just as he is trying to get medical attention for this supposedly lost girl and get her home, he has a seizure, which immediately brings the reader to part 2, "Brain Work." It turns out the seizure is due to a cerebrovascular event coupled with a brain tumor. Because of ensuing amnesia, Nick has to try to figure out what he's been working on, what he has found, and what it all means. But he can no longer recall the code he used to take his notes. In an instant, Nick is transformed from a typical hardboiled detective "superhero" into an invalid, struggling to exercise his body, especially his damaged brain. But interestingly, Nick finds that his symptoms bring some new strengths. He certainly seems like a nicer person—which the reader can infer through the book's piecemeal revelation of his past. He begins a new relationship with his son—he had been distant, like his own father was, and a divorce didn't help—and discovers ways of being more open in his interactions with others.

The author paints a picture of brain damage from stroke and tumors that creates awfully convenient moments of weakness and strength. But the tale itself is well paced, and the characters and their relationships are interestingly drawn. Old cases are revealed, and one of them has a strong connection to the current investigation. This link and its implications are the main subject of the third and final part of the book—given the politically incorrect title of "Retards Picnic."

Overall, Oblivion is well written, entertaining, and suitable for any mental health professional who likes such mystery thrillers. The main characters have both strengths and flaws, like real people. Plenty of action is mixed in with the human journey of a man who has a terminal illness and a past of which, as the "new" Nick, he isn't always very proud.

Dr. Schmetzer is professor and assistant chair for medicine in the department of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

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