Book Review: THE FORGETTING PLACE by John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, Trade Paperback (ISBN-13 9780062227409)
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
I was fortunate enough to receive an advance reading copy of John Burley’s THE ABSENCE OF MERCY and review his debut psychological thriller and suspense novel in November 2013. John Burley's second novel THE FORGETTING PLACE is an artful, exciting and intricately plotted novel which works on several levels.
Lise Shields is a psychiatrist who has been working for the past five years at Menaker State Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital, located twenty-two miles south of Baltimore, Maryland. She’s thirty-three, and was a top resident at Johns Hopkins who could have found employment anywhere. Her own childhood traumas drew her to the position at Menaker, where patients are
“Too ill to be released into the public, or referred by the judicial system after being incompetent to stand trial or not responsible by reason of insanity, Menaker houses the intractably psychiatrically impaired. It is not the forgotten place, but it is a place for forgetting—the crimes convicted by its patients settling into the dust like the gradual deterioration of the buildings themselves.”
Dr. Charles Wagner, the chief medical officer at Menaker, assigns Lise a new patient, a young man named Jason Edwards. Jason is a beautiful young man, and deeply troubled. He scarcely opens up to Lise, and seems immediately resigned to never leaving Menaker. Lise confronts Dr. Wagner because
“My patient—the one who showed up with no court order, no medical records, no written documentation of any kind…You can’t commit a patient to a state psychiatric hospital without a court order, and you know it.”
Lise cannot help Jason without knowing more about his background. She investigates and discovers that Jason’s lover, Amir Massoud, was stabbed to death in the front hallway of their Washington, DC townhouse. But did Jason kill Amir or was the murder committed by someone else? After all, Jason has an older sister who is a CIA agent. His sister believed that Amir had ties to a terrorist organization.
Since others—the CIA, government officials?—want to keep Jason’s location secret, so that he is forgotten in “the forgetting place,” Lise’s probing only pulls her into danger. When she is off hospital grounds, she finds two men tailing her. Lise continues therapy sessions with Jason with urgency. She must uncover his past to keep him safe and guarantee him a future. Yet her oath to “first do no harm” may end both their lives.
Lise charges herself with helping Jason reclaim his memory so that he can move past the traumas of his childhood and of Amir’s death. The exploration of the human mind in THE FORGETTING PLACE –and the secrets the mind yields-- are shattering and absorbing. When Lise must flee Menaker or risk being killed, her high speed escape contains exceptional and explosive action scenes. The reader is propelled to the end of the novel desperate to uncover the trauma and the people are responsible for Jason’s “disappearance, and the subsequent threat on both Jason’s and Lise’s lives. The final revelations will leave the reader agog. John Burley has ensured his place as a highly accomplished and formidable thriller writer.
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