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by Priscilla Masters
Allison and Busby, January 2005
300 pages
ISBN: 0749083379

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A PLEA OF INSANITY, by Joanna Piercy and Martha Gunn creator Priscilla Masters, is a fast-paced read with a well-made story. A former NHS nurse, Masters paints the fictional Greatbach Secure Psychiatric Unit in chillingly realistic detail. Dr Claire Roget has just taken up post at Greatbach, in the office vacated by the gruesome murder of her predecessor and medical school mentor Dr Heidi Faro.

One of Greatbach's more incurable inpatients was convicted for the murder and incarcerated elsewhere, so Greatbach is safe again, until some of its other denizens die. Roget suspects an outpatient, Jerome Barclay, who has a disturbing record of domestic violence, intimidation, and sadistic mindgame-playing, which he increasingly directs at her.

At exactly 300 pages, A PLEA OF INSANITY could have been shorter and tighter. Some paragraphs of vivid description are concluded with sum-up lines that tell bluntly what has already been expertly shown, often using cliche: "They were locked together by their mutual needs", or "She was a woman of negatives. Not positives". I realised whodunit on page 221, but the scenario is interesting enough to have made the rest of the read suspenseful.

Whilst trying to find the serial killer and sort out whether her cute and nice but unemployed, housebound boyfriend is the right man for her, Roget must deal with an unresolved conflict from her childhood that likens her to Barclay in ways she'd rather deny. In classically Freudian style, our heroine can't solve the mystery and resolve her personal problems until she stops repressing this anxiety from the past.

Some of this subplot had the feel of a well-made-novel, with appropriate layers of subtext and clinical psychological explanations, but Claire's vocation made this make sense. Psychiatry is her world and her religion, and we follow the story almost exclusively through her eyes. Though not perfect, A PLEA OF INSANITY is both informative and entertaining. I look forward to reading Masters's next work.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, July 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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