Following his assured debut in The Portrait, Atkins presents another gripping psychological thriller, this one dealing with a subject common in newspaper headlines: adolescent killers. If crimes committed by teens are on the rise, how do authorities account for the increase and identify the risk factors? Dr. Molly Katz, 39-year-old single mother of two and resident physician on the psychiatric ward of Boston Commonwealth Hospital, is at her wits' end with her caseload and unanswered questions. When a nurse is found stabbed to death on the adolescent ward, Katz has few answers and plenty of guilt. Garret Jacobs, the 15-year-old suspect, is one of her patients, although he'd shown no violent tendencies. The mystery darkens when another nurse is murdered while Garret is in a catatonic state. Katz and her colleagues and superiors discuss issues concerning kids and violence: when does "uncontrolled emotion" become "evil," and how do children grow up to be killers? Meanwhile, Katz is grateful for her two successful, well-adjusted teen children, Josh and Megan, who are soon imperiled as the killer remains on the loose. Atkins, a practicing psychiatrist and Yale faculty member, writes like the authority he is, and handles his female protagonist's "mom" voice with casual ease. He also slows down his plot considerably with long, if fascinating, explanations of psychiatric procedure, diagnostic prophesy and laments over the ineffective health insurance system. Provocative theories abound, including a particularly disturbing suggestion of a new evolutionary strain. But the chilling ending provides a shock that's more visceral than theoretical, which should satiate those who like their social psychology lesson laced with a measure of sinister suspense.
St Martins Hardcover First Edition 1999