Quietly, Frank Turner Hollon has been building a body of quality work in the suspense genre, stretching and modifying the form of the novel not merely for experimental purposes but as a vehicle to further enhance the telling of the story. Hollon continues this practice in BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE, arguably his darkest and most disturbing tale to date.
Almost the entirety of BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE consists of a dialogue between Joel Stabler and Dr. Ellis Andrews. The context of their relationship is unfortunate and horrific. Stabler is incarcerated following the murder of his brother Danny in what appears to be a mercy killing occasioned by Danny's severe mental illness. Seeking a friendly, professional opinion, Stabler's attorneys retain Andrews for the purpose of performing a psychological evaluation to determine if Stabler is competent to stand trial.
Stabler presents as a near-genius, one who is observant, canny and well-read; he's also, if he is to be believed, the product of a household where he and his family were subjected to unthinkable physical and mental abuse. The transcript of the clinical interview between Stabler and Andrews reveals not only the depth and breadth of Stabler's intellect --- his IQ is off the charts and he quotes Walker Percy and Ralph Waldo Emerson at will --- but also a disturbed (and disturbing) view of the world.
Meanwhile, Andrews finds himself slowly losing control of the interview. Though the reader's perspective of Andrews is acquired almost entirely through this transcript and Stabler's own wry mental observations of him, the picture that is presented is of a man who has issues of his own. Andrews's point of view is not revealed until the novel's conclusion --- and even then, when Andrews learns the (possible) truth about his subject, more questions are raised than are ultimately answered.
What is fascinating about BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE is that, in order to fully appreciate what has occurred between the covers of this disturbing tale, the reader should immediately re-read the entire novel in light of the revelations set forth in the conclusion. This is not an onerous task by any means, given the length of the book (178 pages). The brevity, however, belies the complexity and richness of the narrative, the depth of the enigma and the mystery it presents.
BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE raises questions about divinity, morality, sanity and reality. There are no easy answers, but they will keep you awake long after you finish this memorable, disturbing work. If you're looking for a selection for your book club, make it this one. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010