When a new Stephen White book comes out, readers tend to celebrate. His 12-book series features Dr. Alan Gregory, Ph.D.; his wife Lauren, a prosecutor; his baby daughter Grace; his cop buddy Sam Purdy; his partner, the irascible Diane Estevez; and his dogs, Emily and Anvil. These familiar characters have evolved into a believable "family" with whom fans can identify. Each of his books offers a well thought-out plot, fully limned characters, finely wrought dialogue, and enough twists to challenge any reader's taste for thrillers.
With BLINDED, the latest addition to his oeuvre, he moves away from his usual "formula" to focus on the personal lives of the Gregory's and the Purdy's --- and offers a challenging mystery the leads must solve in order to stop another victim from dying.
White's fans already know that Lauren has MS and how she and her psychologist husband deal with it. While Lauren is still able to manage her life and live within her limits, the threat of "exacerbation" in MS is horrific: "Multiple Sclerosis roughly translates as many scars … we both knew that an exacerbation --- a fresh wound on a previously unaffected nerve" could lead to eventual total disability. While addressed peripherally in his earlier books, this is the first time that White really delves into the issue.
To further bring readers into the lives of his team, Sam Purdy, a wonderful supporting character, sees his marriage unraveling. Purdy has a serious heart attack, and before he is released from the hospital his wife takes their son and leaves him.
To frame his story with so much personal information about his regular characters is risky business for a writer of suspense novels. After all, s/he depends upon some kind of mystery surrounded by red herrings and other clues to be the aggregate of ideas at the center of the book's architectural schematic. But in the more than capable hands of Stephen White, these challenges become the stuff of life with which readers can empathize. We see them function with their families and we travel with them through their professional commitments, warts, illnesses and hardships. They struggle with "everyman's" problems and each in her/his own way copes with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."
BLINDED is more than a character study. In an interview White said of his latest novel, "It's a tale of friendship, marriage, and serial murder. BLINDED is a series book, written in alternating first person narrations, one by Alan Gregory, and one by his police detective friend, Sam Purdy."
The psychological suspense rests with Gibbs Storey, one of Dr. Gregory's former patients, who re-enters his life after a ten-year absence. She claims to have a secret with horrifying ramifications. When she is seated comfortably in his office, she "raised her fingertips to her lips and leaned forward as though she were whispering a profanity …" and says she knows that her husband is a serial killer who has murdered at least four women.
Alan keeps his professional cool as he probes Gibbs for information that will give him a clue as to what is really going on: "My mind raced ahead of her, but I tried to keep my focus. I decided not to say what was on my mind. Things that are unimportant to the progression of therapy may be crucial to the prosecution of a murder." Was she telling the truth? Was she delusional? Was she attempting to get revenge for all the cheating her husband did?
Dr. Gregory and Sam Purdy are immediately drawn into the vortex created by the chaotic aftershocks of Gibbs's bombshell news. While Gibbs plays a coy game in her therapy sessions with Gregory, she is more of a seductress with Sam, who decides to use his medical leave to investigate this strange, often surreal-sounding accusation against Sterling Storey.
Two points of view is the novelistic devise White uses to tell his story. Said White to an interviewer, "BLINDED is actually written in alternating first-person narrations, with half the story told from the point-of-view of a character, Sam Purdy, whose voice I've never used before. [The alternating voice is Alan Gregory's.] The structural flexibility permits [me to] inject freshness into each new series book. In each new book I try to allow the story I want to tell to dictate the narration and the point-of-view."
In the same interview he said, "I write books to entertain, pure and simple. People don't pick up thrillers to be preached to, they pick up thrillers hoping to feel the imperative to turn pages long after their bedtime has come and gone."
Stephen White has gone far beyond this goal in all of his books, but BLINDED is fresh and the new approach to his ensemble is sure to rivet fans and garner new readers to his work. One note: the notion of a series often intimidates readers new to an author, but have no fear about this writer's collection --- you can jump right in at book twelve with no problem.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on March 1, 2005