The Madman's Tale: A Novel
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It’s been twenty years since Western State Hospital was closed down and the last of its inmates reintegrated into society. Francis Petrel was barely out of his teens when his family committed him to the asylum, after his erratic behavior culminated in a terrifying outburst. Now middle-aged, he leads an aimless, solitary life housed in a cheap apartment, periodically tended to by his sisters, and perpetually medicated to quiet the chorus of voices in his head. But a reunion on the grounds of the shuttered institution stirs something deep in Francis’s troubled mind: dark memories he thought he had laid to rest, about the grisly events that led to Western State Hospital’s demise.
It begins in 1979, when twenty-one-year-old Petrel descends into the state-run purgatory of an overcrowded, understaffed Massachusetts mental hospital. Surrounded by inmates roaming the halls like drugged zombies and raving behind locked doors, well-meaning orderlies, jaded nurses, and patronizing doctors, Francis finds friendship with a motley assortment of fellow patients: a would-be Napoleon, a wise ex-firefighter, and a man obsessed with battling imagined devils. But there’s nothing imaginary about the young nurse found sexually assaulted and brutally murdered late one night after lights-out.
The police suspect an inmate, while patients whisper about visions of a white-shrouded “angel.” But the striking and mysterious prosecuting attorney who arrives to investigate has her own chilling theory—about the grim, telltale “signature” left on the victim’s body, a string of unsolved sex killings, and a very real devil who, by chance or design, has come to turn a madhouse into a slaughterhouse.
Now, with the past creeping back to haunt his thoughts, and nothing but a pencil and the bare walls of his bleak apartment, Francis surrenders to the overwhelming need to tell the story of those nightmarish days. But because the crime was never solved, it’s a story doomed to remain unfinished. Until, like Francis’s long-buried recollections, the killer resurfaces . . . with a vengeance.
A tour de force narrative journey through the eerily unpredictable mind of an utterly unusual hero, The Madman’s Tale will keep even the most astute thriller reader uncertain, unnerved, and unable to resist the tantalizing twists and turns of this fiendishly suspenseful shadow show.
From the Hardcover edition.
roadway beyond the hospital walls, and off to the side some children playing in the front yard of one of the staff housing units. He listened carefully, and from beyond the happy voices, he picked out the strands of a radio playing. Motown, he thought. Something with a seductively catchy big beat and sirenlike harmonies on the refrain. Peter was flanked by Little Black and his large brother, but it was the smaller of the two attendants who whispered urgently, “Peter, you got to keep you head
you here.” He smiled again, showing uneven teeth. A slippery, awful man, Lucy thought. But not the man she was hunting. She could sense Evans growing uneasy at her side. “So,” she said slowly, “you had nothing to do with any of this?” “That’s right,” Harris said. “Can I leave now?” “Yes,” Lucy said. As Harris started to rise, she added: “As soon as you explain to me why another patient would tell us that you boasted of these killings.” “What?” Harris said, his voice rising an octave
currents at work in the room, and for an instant had the sensation that he was being pulled into water beyond his touch. His toes stretched forward inadvertently, like a swimmer in the surf, searching in the foam beneath for the bottom. He knew that Gulp-a-pill no more wanted the prosecutor there than he did the person she believed she was cornering. The hospital was, no matter how mad they all were, still a bureaucracy, and subject to pencil pushers and second-guessers throughout state
eagerness to contribute and she thought suddenly that inside the Western State Hospital there must be all sorts of different types of fears, beyond the one she had come hunting for. She wondered if she would have to come to know all of them. “Francis,” she said, “you seem to have a poetic streak. Still, it must be difficult.” The voices that had been so muted in recent days had raised their own sound to a near shout that seemed to echo through the space behind Francis’s eyes. To quiet them, he
Do as much wrong and irresponsible and outrageous as you can. Unsettle everyone. It will make this place stand on its ear. And the more that we disrupt the ordinary process of this hospital, the less likely the Angel will feel safe.” Lucy nodded. “It’s a plan. Maybe not much of one, but it’s a plan. Although I can’t see Gulptilil going along with it.” “Screw him,” Peter said. “Of course he won’t. And neither will Mister Evil. But don’t let that stand in your way.” She seemed to think hard for