I had a little difficulty recently. Nothing major, just an error
here, a glitch there, and all of a sudden I receive an unpleasant
letter promising me a branding more indelible than that visited
upon Cain. I was fortunately able to exercise a bit of quick damage
control and get things corrected before they started to spiral out
of control. All of it was the result of a simple error that was
apparently unintentional. What was interesting, though, was that
after the smoke cleared, the dust settled, and a half dozen
computers between here and Colorado were satisfied, I got to
thinking how crazed things might have been if someone had decided
to screw around with my life just for grins and giggles.
And that, boys and girls, is exactly what happens in THE ANALYST,
the new thriller by John Katzenbach. Dr. Frederick Starks is a
psychoanalyst who is burned out on his profession, a vaguely
unpleasant widower who is just going through the motions of his
profession and who derives few pleasures from his life other than
the predictability of his routine. This all changes, however, on
his 53rd birthday when Starks receives an anonymous, and fateful,
The warning is quite to the point. The sender advises Starks that
Starks, somewhere, somehow, in the past, ruined his life, and now
he is going to ruin Starks's life. It doesn't stop there, however.
Starks is given 30 days to determine the identity of the sender. If
Starks is unsuccessful, he must take his own life, or the life of
one of his relatives --- most of whom he has not maintained contact
with --- will be forfeit. Every aspect of Starks's life ---
professional, emotional, and personal --- almost immediately begins
to fall apart. Starks soon has only one asset left: his intellect,
a tool he brings to bear on his dilemma as he recovers from the
devastation and slowly begins to turn things around on his unknown
persecutor --- an individual who literally could be anyone.
Katzenbach succeeds on so many levels with THE ANALYST that it is
easy to overlook the most important one. Katzenbach takes Sparks, a
thoroughly unsympathetic character, and infuses so much suspense
into his plight that the reader is not only enthralled with the
tale but compelled to continue, notwithstanding the nature of the
protagonist. THE ANALYST also functions quite well as a cautionary
tale for our times, whether such was Katzenbach's intent or not.
The electronic web of information that clings to each of us,
wherever we go, is by turns very strong and very fragile. What we
gain in convenience is weighted by what we sacrifice in privacy.
I'm not entirely sure that the scales balance at all times, if at
Katzenbach, whose literary career will be bolstered in any event by
the film adaptation of his HART'S WAR, has seen his name become
synonymous with psychological suspense. THE ANALYST should cement
that reputation for good.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 20, 2011