Friday, October 6

The Wrong Man by John Katzenbach

Review by Gloria Feit


In a tale as immediate and terrifying as any nightmare, John Katzenbach's new novel is the story of Ashley Freeman, a recent college grad about to enter a graduate program in art history in Boston who unwittingly invites a stalker into her young life.  The protagonists, Ashley herself; her father, Scott, a college professor; Sally, an attorney and Scott's ex-wife, and Hope, a girls' soccer coach and a guidance counselor and Sally's present partner, are all well-drawn.  And then there is Michael O'Connor, the stalker, an unnervingly bizarre, decidedly twisted and absolutely fixated creation, whose tentacles become enmeshed in all their lives to horrifying effect.  What began as an ill-conceived adventure that led to an uncharacteristic one-night stand shortly lead s Ashley to say to herself 'I am in trouble…this can't be happening."  But of course it is, and on that same night the first act of violence occurs.  And one is reminded in due course that other things can be done to a person than causing physical harm.   As one character states: "You don't have to kill someone to kill them."  And another:  "…we like to presume that we can recognize danger when it appears on the horizon.  Anyone can avoid the danger that has bells, whistles, red lights, and sirens attached to it.  It's much harder when you don't exactly know what you're dealing with."


The chapters often have slightly enigmatic headings, and each end with a section of dialogue primarily between two participants whose identity is unknown to the reader.  These unsettling devices set the tone for what is to follow.  One reads this tale with a rising sense of dread of what is to come.   And the sense that anyone can fall victim to such an unsettled mind, in all naïveté, as the characters here find themselves initially unable to fathom what is to come: "Don't you imagine that you wouldn't want to believe the safest thing, when in reality the most dangerous thing was lurking right there in front of you."


The Wrong Man is a real page-turner, gripping and frightening, and it had this reader's mental fingers crossed and breath held for the outcome and the safety and lives of its protagonists.  I recall this author's first book, In the Heat of the Summer, as being equally well-written and nerve-tingling, and his newest offering is recommended.


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