You meet a psychiatrist at a party. You can't stand there stripping your psyche naked. What can you talk about? The DSM-V. That's the latest, due out in May 2013, in a series called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Believe me, after your new friend stops sputtering, you'll have yourself a conversation.
I'll be curious to see the DSM-V. In the meantime, I enjoy browsing through my husband's DSM-IV-TR and meeting complex fictional characters who'd be candidates for various mental health diagnoses. Here are a few books I've enjoyed:
The victim is a young girl who has been diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and DAMP (deficits in attention, motor control and perception––a classification used only in Sweden). A fisherman finds her drowned, tangled in the line of his lobster pot. Patrik goes to the scene. The death of a child is always terrible, but this one is particularly bad for Patrik, father of a new baby daughter with Erica, because he recognizes her as Sara, the daughter of one of Erica's friends. The postmortem discovers bath water, rather than seawater, in Sara's lungs, so a murder investigation begins.
|Photo of Fjällbacka by Frank Heuer|
Highsmith's series involves books of psychological observation that study the subject of guilt. Because Ripley's life changes over the course of the series, the books are best read in order. Begin with The Talented Mr. Ripley, written in 1955. Ripley goes to Italy at the request of Dickie Greenleaf's rich father to find Dickie and talk him into returning home. One thing happens after another, and before long Dickie is dead, and Tom's life is forever changed. This book was made into a 1999 movie starring Matt Damon as Ripley and Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf. It's an okay movie, but not as good as Highsmith's book.
There are three more Ripley books, and they see him becoming more comfortable with his wife and more concerned about his reputation. Ripley's life is going well in Ripley's Game until one of his criminal acquaintances, Reeves Minot, asks him to commit a murder for him. Ripley refuses, but he suggests that Minot hire a poor picture framer for the job. This idea doesn't pan out well. In The Boy Who Followed Ripley, a 16-year-old American boy who has just killed his wealthy father looks up Ripley in France. American David Pritchard arrives in Ripley under Water. Pritchard is obsessed with the rumors swirling around Ripley's past, and he digs into the disappearance of Thomas Murchison from Ripley under Ground. These five books form a portrait of a man who doesn't feel the guilt from his actions that he should.
Like Forty Words for Sorrow, the second book, The Delicate Storm, was inspired by a real-life crime. Some of us might remember the crimes perpetrated by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) in October 1970, while Pierre Trudeau was prime minister of Canada.
The ever-escalating tension and dread of the first book is absent in The Delicate Storm. It is beautifully crafted with vivid characterizations and stunningly described settings you'll never forget. As usual with this series, the cruel winter far north in Ontario is one of the main characters. As the book opens, it is three weeks into January, and the temperature is doing what it never does in January in Algonquin Bay––rising above freezing. The streets are shiny with melted snow, thick fog is sidling up against the buildings in town, and the bears are coming out of hibernation early. They're hungry, and this isn't happy news for Ivan Bergeron, who has a raging hangover. It does his head no good when he hears his dog barking frantically in the woods. By the time Bergeron makes it outside, Shep is back in the yard, whining and clawing at something he has retrieved for his master. The something "lay there, fishbelly white, hair curling along one side. Toward the wrist end, the flesh still bore the zigzag impression of a watch with an expandable bracelet. Even though there was no hand attached, there was no doubt that the thing lying in Ivan Bergeron's backyard was a human arm." While Bergeron is making his grisly discovery, homicide detectives John Cardinal and his French-Canadian colleague, Lise Delorme, are tracking down one of the area's most incompetent criminals, who has just ineptly robbed a bank. These two disparate events lead Cardinal and Delorme into an investigation of crimes that took place 30 years earlier, involving the Mounties and the FLQ.
A red-haired woman draws attention from the regulars who have taken refuge from the flies to drink in an Algonquin Bay bar. She is beautiful, but covered with black fly bites; she also presents an oddly flat affect and says she doesn't know anything about herself or her present condition. Fortunately, a cop takes her to a hospital emergency room where doctors discover that she has a bullet in her brain.
Cardinal and Delorme begin an inquiry into her shooting that leads them to a mutilated corpse and into a drug dealers' turf war between the Viking Riders motorcycle gang and some small-time criminals led by a charismatic leader named Red Bear. Blunt's readers zig zag between the drug dealers' shenanigans, Cardinal and Delorme's investigation, and "Red" as she regains her memory. While the story unfolds, the cops (and the reader) become more and more anxious to see the perpetrators brought to justice.
For further reading, I suggest the DSM. Reading any of the above books in bed may not aid your sleep, and I offer no guarantee that you'll stay off a psychiatrist's couch. You will, however, meet some characters who should spend some time there.