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Book Reviews   |    
Warning Signs
Reviewed by Wesley Sowers, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2003; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.54.12.1666
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by Stephen White; New York, Dell Publishing, 2002, 486 pages, $7.95 softcover

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Steven White's suspense novel Warning Signs takes place in a post-Columbine Boulder, Colorado, not yet sensitized by the events of September 11, 2001. A campaign of terror is unleashed in the Denver area that anticipates the reality of our post-9/11 world to some degree, but, as might be expected, does not capture all its implications.

A progressive Boulder District Attorney, perceived by some to be too lenient in his treatment of criminals, is brutally murdered. The prime suspect turns out to be an attractive female detective, who, along with her male partner, a crusty veteran of the department, is among the first to investigate the crime scene. A tangled web of relationships connects Alan Gregory, a clinical psychologist in private practice, to this case in a variety of ways. His involvement, in turn, connects the murder indirectly to a vengeful plot by a disturbed young man and woman. Both victims of violent crime, they feel that they have been further violated by the system's failure to adequately punish the persons responsible. They plan an extraordinary series of bombings to bring the impact of senseless violence to the attention of the public and to make public officials experience their pain and loss. The result is a riveting account of Alan's efforts to identify exactly who the bombers are and prevent what they have planned.

White writes in a clear and highly accessible manner and weaves an engaging tale. However, to achieve some of the objectives of his plot, he has had to resort to the use of some rather improbable circumstances. Alan happens to be a good friend of the crusty old detective whose partner is being accused of the murder, and his wife, an assistant district attorney, switches over to defense in order to aid the young detective. Coincidentally, the mother of one of the bombers chooses him as her therapist. These connections supply him with a wealth of information on all aspects of the murder investigation and direct involvement in the quest to subvert the planned terror. At the same time, White, himself a clinical psychologist, includes elements in the story that would seem to have psychological significance, but they are never really elaborated or explored.

Although this novel is successful in keeping us interested and entertained, it misses the opportunity to be something more. The ethical issues related to patient confidentiality are considered superficially but are not allowed to interfere with the plot. The opportunity to consider the conflict between our desire for vengeance and the need to have some capacity for forgiveness and sympathy are presented, but they are never given a stage for their struggle. Although the main character is a psychologist, he and the other characters respond concretely to events without significant consideration of the complexities of the dilemmas that are only suggested.

This is a novel that will satisfy those who are looking for a quick, suspenseful, and entertaining read. It will likely be disappointing to those who are looking for a novel with psychological sophistication.

Dr. Sowers is medical director at Allegheny Office of Behavioral Health in Pittsburgh.

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