Deep dive into the mind of a criminal

THE SILENT PATIENT By Alex Michaelides.
THE SILENT PATIENT By Alex Michaelides.



By Alex Michaelides

Orion Publishing/Paperback/ 352 pages/$27.95/Books Kinokuniya/

3.5 stars

Alicia Berenson is a budding artist, whose works skyrocket in value after she shoots her husband Gabriel five times in the face with the rifle that he inherited from his father, then never spoke a word again.

At the insane asylum where she ends up at for the seemingly random crime, she meets forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber, who has taken an obsessively compulsive interest in her case and is determined to help her find her voice and confront the truth at all costs.

Alex Michaelides' sophisticated debut has topped The New York Times' bestseller list and sparked a bidding war for movie rights, which were won by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment, which is behind acclaimed films such as Oscar-winning, coming-of-age biopic Moonlight (2016) and zombie flick World War Z (2013).

His writing has drawn comparisons to Agatha Christie, the famous detective novelist whom he cites as an inspiration.

Michaelides' stellar rise to fame is made all the more remarkable given that his first two screenplays had been duds - mystery thriller The Devil You Know (2013) went straight to video and heist comedy The Con Is On (2018) earned the ignominy of a 0 per cent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

He admits to The Wall Street Journal that he had once wanted to give up writing.

Yet, he has finally found his writer's voice in The Silent Patient, a suspenseful page-turner that reels the reader in hook, line and sinker and does not let go until the whammy of a twist that is served with a dollop of poetic justice.

Paranoia lurks in every corner in Michaelides' straightforward yet razor-sharp storytelling, which, in a quietly surgical way, peels behind the layers to reveal the innermost psyches of his characters.

Alicia and Theo, while seemingly in control of their lives, have damaged pasts.

The novel is narrated mostly, from Theo's first-person perspective and interspersed with diary entries from Alicia, the "silent siren" - an enigmatic femme fatale.

He sets the scene of Alicia's picture-perfect life: She is one-half of a glamorous couple, married to the handsome Gabriel, who is an in-demand fashion photographer, and lives in a mansion in a posh London neighbourhood.

But she wrestles with her inner demons, coming from a broken family and having a brother-in-law whom her husband idolises, but has sexually assaulted her.

Theo grew up in an abusive household and admits to harbouring selfish motivations for wanting to become a therapist: "I was on a quest to help myself."

He quickly finds affinity in Alicia, an artist, whose final painting was that of Alcestis, the loyal but doomed wife in a Euripides tragedy.

This reference is perhaps unsurprising, given that the author was born in Cyprus to a Greek father and is well-versed in Greek mythology.

His writing is assured and his imagination vivid in what is a deep dive into the mind of a criminal.

But the novel's manipulation of readers, whether through the narrative timelines or the character motivations, may not sit well with every one.

If you like this, read: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (Transworld, 2016, $14.98, Books Kinokuniya). Rachel Watson, an alcoholic divorcee, watches the picture-perfect lives of two families whose homes she passes by while she takes the same commuter train every morning. But this quickly unravels when she gets caught up in a web of complicit lies and abuse.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2019, with the headline 'Deep dive into the mind of a criminal'. Print Edition | Subscribe