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Paperback The Madman's Tale Book

ISBN: 0552151068

ISBN13: 9780552151061

The Madman's Tale

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. 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...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Brilliant, Ambitious Suspense Thriller - Beautifully & Sensitively Written

When the Committee to Preserve the Western State Hospital invites former inmates, (those who are functional, not interned elsewhere, and still alive), to attend a special daylong program about the institute, its history, and the "important role it played in the state's current approach to treatment of the mentally ill," Francis "C-Bird" Petrel decides to visit his old residence, which was closed down twenty years before. It seems the committee wants to use a section of the grounds for a museum, and is sponsoring this function to raise funds. Francis has never been to a reunion of any kind in his entire life, and certainly never thought to return to this particular hospital, where so many traumatic and painful events occurred. Unsettled, but fascinated, he calls to confirm his attendance before he can change his mind. On a warm May afternoon, wearing his only suit, Francis, now forty-one years-old, takes three buses before arriving at the small New England town where he had spent so much time behind walls and locked doors. Ghosts from the past haunt him as he recalls "the tastes and smells of madness." He listens to his past "as it swirled around him." The medications he takes daily keep the voices at bay, inner voices he has heard since he was a little boy. Of course, the meds have side effects, some severe, which cause other medical conditions - but the voices are quiet now...and that's the point. Francis is not completely convinced, however, that their silence is a good thing. They never told him to do anything bad, and he doesn't know if he would have obeyed them if they did. In a sad strange way, they offered him sensible advice and kept him company. He never experienced the normalcy of childhood, of growing up with friends, playing sports, dating, because of their presence. Except for the voices, he has always been isolated - alone. But he did make a friend or two at one time - at the hospital. And he reunites with one today. Nappy, who obviously believed he was Napoleon, (most of the time), knows more about the former Emperor of the French than most historians. Another Western State Hospital alumni, he is going to give a speech about the "road to recovery" in today's program, and is glad to see C-Bird. Of course, he is now aware, all of the time, that he is neither emperor nor general. With chagrin, he admits to the huge number of delusional people who make the same claim to fame as he did. He was not even original in his madness. He confidentially informs "C-Bird" (the nickname that was given to Francis shortly after he was committed), that he will not discuss the killings in his speech - the killings which were never revealed, never solved, and that still give both men hideous nightmares. Then Nappy remarks, "I'll be happy when they tear it down. It was a dangerous evil place." And he asks C-Bird, almost pleadingly, to tell the story. Francis goes home that evening thinking about Nappy's request. He has pens and pencils, but no pap

Katzenbach at his best

In "The Madman's Tale," John Katzenbach has produced a well-written thriller with an unusual protagonist and an eerie setting. Francis "C-Bird" Petrel is a former patient of a state mental hospital who recounts a series of unsolved murders that occurred at the asylum years ago. The narrative weaves together the present and past as Francis revisits the closed-down asylum for a series of lectures and then grapples with the memories and internal voices of his past. He decides to write down, in pencil on the walls of his apartment, the story of life in the asylum and his role in helping track down the serial killer known simply as "The Angel." As Francis composes his tale, his madness threatens to resurface and prevent him from completing the story.After being committed to the hospital at the age of 21 following a violent outburst against his family, Francis struggled to adjust to institutional life. He was befriended by Peter the Fireman, a former arson investigator under psychiatric evaluation for setting fire to a church. Fellow inmate Lanky announced that an angel visited him and commanded him to stamp out evil. Lanky was found with the blood of a slain nurse on his clothing and was accused of the murder. Prosecuting attorney Lucy Jones visited the hospital because of similarities between this murder and those against other women that had previously occurred outside the confines of the hospital. She felt that Lanky was wrongly accused and that the murder was the work of a serial killer now hiding out in the asylum. She called upon Francis and Peter to help her track down the killer among the institution inmates. Lucy and her helpers soon discovered that finding a murderer in a mental institution was no easy matter. The usual investigative techniques did not work. How can they find a psychopath among thousands of psychotics and other mentally ill patients? What is considered suspicious behavior in a place where the abnormal is normal and where the illogical is routine? Are they looking for signs of sanity or insanity in a suspect? How can they interview witnesses or suspects without setting off a disruption of the institutional routine that could upset the inmates?Katzenbach provides a powerful portrayal of the despair and hopelessness of asylum life through an array of disillusioned inmates and bureaucratic medical staff. He includes touching portraits of a would-be Napoleon and a would-be Cleopatra who befriend Francis. Through schizophrenics, catatonics, psychotics, and the delusional, he portrays inmates who rely on medications to keep mental demons at bay and who often lose the battle to regain sanity and reentry into the outside world. With echoes of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," this book is a fascinating, eerie, and suspenseful must-read.Eileen Rieback

A smart, creepy thriller.

In 1979 Francis Petrel was committed to the Western State Hospital for his erratic behavior. Surrounded by medicated zombies, Francis, desperate to stop the voices in his head, makes friends with several inmates: an ex-fireman with a thirst for fire, a would-be Napoleon and a man who imagines devils. But, as the men open up to each other, a shocking crime will force them to confront the fact that a killer may be among them.A nurse is found sexually assaulted and brutally murdered late one night after lights-out. The police suspect an inmate, while the patients talk of a white-shrouded "angel" lurking the halls at night. A mysterious prosecuting attorney arrives with her own theory about the killing, but after more bodies are discovered she realizes that someone is turning the madhouse in a slaughterhouse.Twenty-years later the doors of the Western State Hospital are being closed for good and Francis, now living in an apartment and taking his meds to keep the "voices" quiet, needs to tell the story of the nightmarish days at the hospital. Armed with his pencil, Francis begins writing everything he remembers about the murders, but since the crimes were never solved he fears his story will remain unfinished, until the killer returns...with a vengeance.`The Madman's Tale' is a shocking thriller. A creepy mental hospital is the setting for a twisted story about broken individuals and how far their illnesses will push them. The plot twists will keep readers turning the pages and the narrative will keep them guessing as the journey through the main character's mind is unpredictable and spooky. John Katzenbach has been writing original thrillers for years and his newest is one of his finest. `The Madman's Tale' is the perfect book for readers looking for a smart, intricately plotted thriller. Nick Gonnella

"All my life, all I wanted was to be normal."

A most unusual "detective story," The Madman's Tale spools out from the memory of Francis X. Petrel, a delusional man in his 40s who is former mental patient. Known at the hospital to which he was once committed as "C-Bird," because of his last name, Francis reconnects, twenty years after his release, with Napoleon, another former patient at the hospital, who urges him to write about the murders that happened when they were both confined. Francis is not sure he can write about these events. "The trouble with being mad," he says, "was that it was real hard to tell what was true and what wasn't." Nevertheless, when he returns home, he discovers that the visit has "startled emotions within [him]." Lacking paper, he picks up his pencil and begins to cover the walls of his apartment with the story that becomes this novel.Author Katzenbach is convincing in his portrayal of Francis, both as the barely functioning 41-year-old narrator who still hears voices and sees visions, and as a 21-year-old patient, who, though mad, is not nearly as mad as many others in the hospital. When a nurse nicknamed Short Blond, is gruesomely murdered shortly after Francis arrives, a young prosecutor from Boston, Lucy Kyoto Jones, who was, herself, once the victim of a vicious crime, arrives at the hospital to investigate. Since she has no staff with her, she asks for help, and C-Bird's only friend, another inmate named Fireman, volunteers, believing his skills as an arson investigator could be useful. Francis also agrees to help. Soon two more murders occur.Katzenbach brings the chaos of the hospital to life, creating a powerful and affecting portrait of the lives of the mentally ill, and taking us inside the mind of Francis at two different stages of his life, twenty years apart. As Francis continues writing his story on the walls of his apartment, the reader hopes desperately that Francis will finish the story before the terrifying, satanic Angel he sees and the cacophony of voices he hears capture him and destroy him completely. Because the plot is often unrealistic, the well-drawn main characters take center stage. The sense of foreboding and palpable evil are strong, and Katzenbach's vibrant dialogue, eye for detail, ability to describe strange interactions within the hospital, and his unusual main character turn the traditional detective story on its head. This is a real page-turner. (4.5 stars) Mary Whipple

A dark and haunting thriller

With his new novel Mr.Katzenbach delivers his best yet. The main protagonist, Francis, is mad; this means he spent a lot of time in an institution and has only slowly found his way back to a halfway normal life. Though normal is relative as he needs to take a whole dose of pills every day to fight back his voices and he has achieved nothing more but the status of 'innocent idiot' in his home town.He reflects on his time, now twenty years ago, in a mental institution. Katzenback is absolutely flawless in capturing the dark and grim mood of the mental health institition where inmates and caretakers alike are only there trying to pass the day without crating problems and with a total absence of a long term perspective.This is the background for a gruesome murder to be investigated by a young women with the help of two inmates, amongst them Francis. The result is a rollercoaster of emotions and moral choices, in particular when the writing of the story pushes Francis back into his delusions. It is a fight against evil, the direct evil of the murder and the more allegorical evil of the institution, and a very heroic one indeed.It is hugely rewarding as a reader to identify with Frances, a very, very flawed individual, but with a keen sense of observation, and one ends the book not only having read a darned good mystery novel, but also with a lot of compassion for the inmates and other people in the asylum, not dissimalr to kesey's One flew over the Cuckoo's nest
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